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Unit surpasses consecutive 7,000 days with forces in Southwest Asia

by Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

10/8/2009 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Members of the 55th Wing from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and their RC-135V/W Joint Rivets have been deployed in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility every day for the past 7,000 days.

The RC-135 is a reconnaissance aircraft supporting theater and national-level consumers with near real-time on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities.

"No other (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platform can make that claim," said Capt. Dennis Knight, the 55th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge deployed here from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. The 55th AMU Airmen are responsible for servicing the aircraft while deployed.

"We specifically are listening to what is happening in the battlefield environment," said Lt. Col. Richard Linehan, the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron commander who is responsible for the oversight of RC-135 operations. The information gathered by the RC-135 is combined with the visual intelligence collected by other platforms to provide the full spectrum of the situation on the ground.

RC-135s were first deployed Aug. 9, 1990, to take part in Operation Desert Storm and have since played a role in every CENTCOM operation. Colonel Linehan has worked with RC-135s his entire 18-year career and first deployed with them in 1994. He's no stranger to milestones. In 1995, as a young co-pilot, he participated in the 1,000th RC-135 sortie in the AOR.

"It's quite an honor to be out here for this length of time and be part of the historical significance of the squadron," he said.

Almost all of the members of the 55th AMU and the 763rd ERS deploy from the 55th Wing, with a few such as Captain Knight deploying from tenant units in England or Japan. As both personnel and aircraft rotate between the AOR and Offutt AFB, the maintainers of the 55th AMU are always standing by to keep the RC-135s ready to go.

"A lot of it's done once the aircraft lands," said Tech. Sgt. Dwight Herrick, an aircraft electrical and environmental systems craftsman for the 55th AMU. "We'll service it, do our preflight inspections, fuel it and repair any issues. Realistically, we try to have them ready to go in about eight to 12 hours. If necessary to, we can have it ready in three hours."

Sergeant Herrick has worked with RC-135s for the past 10 years and is currently on his fourth deployment with this aircraft. He remembered one of his previous deployments that took place during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

"We had a very high-ops tempo through that," he said. "We were there until the airstrikes were over and then we closed down our operations and moved (to Southwest Asia)."

Most of the RC-135 maintainers and operators have been with the airframe their entire careers.

"We have very few people who are out here on their first deployment," Colonel Linehan said, "and if they are, it's because they're brand new Airmen."

"It's pretty amazing and it's a good feeling to be with an aircraft so long and watch all the different changes through the years," Sergeant Herrick said.

Changes that have made his job as a maintainer easier.

"(Improvements) give the operators a more reliable product and give us an easier 'quick-turn' rate," he said.

One of those upgrades included replacing analog cockpit instrument panels with a digital "glass cockpit" model. Sergeant Herrick also mentioned the change to a carbon fiber-based braking system.

"We see fewer problems now with brake wear and leaking," he said. "That used to be a common problem. We'd be changing brakes almost every day."

The fact that the maintenance and operations personnel come from the same home station is key to the unit's continued effectiveness.

"A lot of us know each other," Colonel Linehan said, "so the cooperation we have with maintenance is fantastic. We count on them each and every day."

Colonel Linehan noted some changes of his own, mainly in the length of deployments. He said that in the past personnel would deploy here for 60 or 90 days. The group of Airmen here now is the first to be deployed for 120 days. He added that he is just the second 763rd ERS commander to be deployed for a full year.

"That is a big change in terms of the continuity that we can provide to the squadron," he said.

Colonel Linehan also noted the greater recognition the RC-135 has been given as an intelligence-gathering tool.

"It's an ISR war," he said, "and the importance of our platform in the grand scheme of things has only grown over the years."

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