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Airmen control sky over Iraq

by Senior Airman Shaun Emery
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/26/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- With more than 270,000 square miles of playing field, Airmen with the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron have their game faces on, providing command and control of joint air operations supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Providing surveillance, identification, weapons control, theater missile defense, battlefield management and theater communications links, the 727th EACS has its hands in every aspect of air operations in the Iraqi sky.

The squadron is a self-contained mobile combat unit with Airmen covering more than 25 specialties, including operations, radar, maintenance, ground radio, mission planning, radar, technical control, medical care and intelligence.

“Everyone has a role to play,” said Capt. Jayson Murgoitio, a mission crew commander. “Teamwork and the ability to cover every base is what make our mission a success.”

Within their chilly 55-degree operations module, weapons controllers direct air assets to areas where they are needed, whether to direct air-to-ground support or to guide pilots to tankers for refueling. With a multitude of aircraft filling the airspace, the six-hour shifts for weapons directors can be hectic.

“We are constantly tracking aircraft and pushing information to them,” said Senior Airman Denise White, a weapons director. “The picture is always changing, and we need to ensure pilots have the right information.”

The picture used by weapons controllers, mission planners and intelligence Airmen is compiled within the walls of the 727th EACS. Interface control technicians, such as Senior Airman Charles Arata, are responsible for putting that picture together.

On what Airman Arata refers to as the “battlefield internet,” information is collected, assembled and sent out to agencies that use them in their command and control mission.

“By providing a single air picture for Iraq, we help ensure everyone is on the same page,” Airman Arata said.

The technological resources needed to maintain control of the sky are not immune to the rigors of a deployed environment like Balad. It takes a team of dedicated individuals to keep the equipment running, said Senior Master Sgt. Dave Mumford, the 727th maintenance superintendent.

“Heat plays a major role here,” he said. “A lot of the equipment we use won’t perform in hot conditions. Our maintainers know that and work very hard to keep things going.”

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