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JSTARS are 'eyes of the night'

by Staff Sgt. Jason Barebo
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/26/2007 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Like owls hunting prey in the dark of night, aircrews flying in the 116th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron's E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft use its radar systems to support ground units and direct air support throughout the AOR.

With aircraft deployed to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, the 116th EACCS recently reached a milestone with more than 37,000 combat flying hours and 3,000 sorties providing intra-theater ground and air commander support.

"The 116th brings an unmatched capability to the fight," said Col. Robert Gass, 379th Expeditionary Operations Group commander.

"The ability to support attack operations and provide targeting coordinates is just a small portion of what makes them as invaluable as they are."

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, 116th aircrews were tasked to track enemy convoy movements in Iraq, a simple task when compared to the capabilities of the airframe, according to Lt. Col. Bill Gould, 116th EACCS commander.

The advantage of JSTARS continued to be realized by military leaders and has made a significant impact in the war on terrorism. 

"We call ourselves 'The eyes of the night,'" Colonel Gould said.

"In addition to being able to support operations during the day, we can also see what is happening on the ground at night and relay that information to ground commanders or air support assets depending on what the situation calls for."

Colonel Gould recalled one such mission that took place March 26, 2003, during which a group of Marines were engaged with enemy forces during a sandstorm causing low visibility. However, with the capabilities of the JSTARS, the crews inside the E-8C were able to easily track enemy insurgents and call in air strike after air strike.

"Our missions here continue to evolve," said Colonel Gould. "Leadership is starting to see what capabilities we bring to the fight and continues to challenge us."

The 116th EACCS aircrews constantly receive positive feedback from supported ground units.
"We receive photos and videos from the Army all the time," Colonel Gould said. "They want us to know how important we are to their operations."

One Army officer and two enlisted Soldiers also fly with each mission to ensure that the JSTARS crew is providing the right kind of support for ground forces.

"Our Army crew members are constantly in direct contact with ground forces relaying information back and forth between the aircrew and the ground teams," Colonel Gould said.

"We have had an enormous impact supporting ground forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom," Colonel Gould said.

The 116th aircrews also provide vital support in the event an aircraft goes down.

'Using our radar system, we can relay the exact coordinates of the aircraft crash to search and rescue teams," Colonel Gould said. "We also keep constant watch on the area providing information for aircraft that may be providing air cover.

"We are only programmed to fly about 7,000 hours a year," the colonel said. "This past year we almost doubled that at roughly 14,000.

"We are very excited to see new engines coming to our fleet. Given the hours we're putting on our fleet, it will help relieve some of our maintenance issues with our current motors and also increase our operational capability," Colonel Gould said.

Flying what is termed a high demand-low density aircraft, 116th aircrews continue to exceed squadron and wing standards.

"We have broken our flying hours record each year for the past five years," Colonel Gould said. "Some of my folks are spending their second consecutive Christmas deployed away from family, but we know that our missions play a vital role saving lives."

"The 116th has been a part of the 379th AEW for a long time, rotating their personnel in and out of theater," Colonel Gass said. "I am very proud and excited having them here.

"They have accomplished some amazing things and I know they will continue to their long-standing tradition of excellent support for our forces."

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