Eyes in the sky at Kandahar save lives

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Melissa B. White
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Providing command and control over Afghanistan, all 250,000-plus square miles of it, might sound like a large task, but it's nothing the Airmen of the 73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron here can't handle.

They support the unit's mission of enduring and persistent airpower through air control and data link support. They make sure a constant radar feed is available from various sources throughout Afghanistan.

"We support a lot of troops in contact," said Capt. Donald Kingsley, the 73rd EACS Afghanistan regional interface control officer. TIC, or troops in contact, is another way to refer to military members in a firefight.

"We drastically decrease the time it takes to get air assets overhead by having a constant watch over them," he said. "We're also helping to make Afghanistan a safer place. It's important to have the images because leaders are basing their critical decisions on our data link pictures."

The squadron, which houses a $13 million dual-radar system, is physically located in Afghanistan, so there is a better direct link between aircraft and the radar. The information is then transmitted to the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at an air base in Southwest Asia.

"We support every flight, every day with air control," Captain Kingsley said. "Even the cargo planes that are flying from here to Kabul, they're flying into places where we're dropping bombs all day long, so we're here to de-conflict that and get the information through to them."

Members from various career fields are embedded in the 73rd EACS to help make it a self-sustained unit.

There are technicians and air controllers who operate the equipment. There also are civil engineers to make sure there is power and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to keep the equipment in a controlled climate. There are maintainers to keep the equipment running properly.

"Without them maintaining our radar, we might not be able to provide the data link," the captain said. "We have to make sure we have everything 100 percent right, 100 percent of the time. Lives are at stake and we need to constantly remain vigilant."

A lot of the maintenance within the squadron is preventive, but maintainers also come across some challenges because of the environment, which is very dusty and hot.

"Our generators are our life supply," said Senior Master Sgt. Steven Fallin, the 73rd EACS maintenance superintendent and acting first sergeant. "We check them regularly and are constantly going through air and fuel filters, hundreds of them in a matter of a month or two. The environment out here is really tough on the equipment."

Despite these challenges, the sergeant said these Airmen work well together around the clock to support the vital mission.

"We have a great team here," Sergeant Fallin said. "Everyone knows how to do their specific job, and they know how it supports the mission."

Initially supported by four-month rotations when this expeditionary squadron stood up in 2009, the Airmen are now on six-month rotations. At this time, most of the 50 Airmen in the squadron are deployed from Spangdahlem Air base, Germany.

Already halfway through their rotation, with hopes to return home in January, these Airmen have already left a footprint in Afghanistan by keeping watch over the country.