Constant Pressure Over Time
By Lt. Col. Bryan Kitchin, 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron Commander
/ Published August 27, 2013
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- As operations at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing transition from expeditionary to enduring, in my opinion, no other combat air forces platform personifies enduring more than the RC-135V/W Rivet Joint operated by 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron aircrews.
This month, the RJ celebrates its 23rd consecutive year deployed to the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility. Furthermore, Aug. 25 marked the 10-year anniversary of the RJ operating out of the 379th AEW here -- truly an enduring presence.
The Rivet Joint has supported numerous USCENTCOM operations since its arrival in the AOR on Aug. 8, 1990. Beginning with Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm to Northern Watch and Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom and continuing with Operation Enduring Freedom, the RJ has been the Air Force's premier airborne capability for collecting, identifying, exploiting, locating and disseminating enemy electronic signals. This unique weapon system has spent the greater part of 13 years delivering vital, lifesaving information directly to troops on the ground.
Today it continues providing electronic warfare support by pushing real-time, threat information to air, land and sea forces.
EVOLUTION OF THE MISSION
I, along with many other outstanding operators, have seen the RJ's mission evolve. For me, specifically, the story began in 2000 conducting operations supporting the Southern and Northern No Fly Zones over Iraq. Back then, we were perfecting our electronic warfare support mission by delivering threat data directly to coalition aircraft. As our capabilities became more integral to the mission, I remember saying, "No one goes into the box, when RJ's in the chocks."
This garnered a sense of pride among our generation of operators and maintainers as the RJ branched out into the Combat Air Forces from a strictly strategic reconnaissance asset steeped in Strategic Air Command traditions.
As we achieved air superiority, close air support became the primary mission; therefore, we [the RJs] began to focus on providing direct support to troops on the ground.
One of my airborne mission supervisors, Master Sgt. Robert, with more than 3,000 combat hours recalls, "At one point we were flying missions integrated with strike aircraft, working collaboratively to support ground maneuver operations."
He added, "It felt really good to show up on scene and provide top-cover, giving our guys on the ground a game-changing advantage over the enemy."
Over the past nine years, I have seen a continuing evolution in the RJ's contribution to the mission.
I'm extremely proud of the strides we have made in integrating with the increasing number of specialized airborne surveillance assets. Our operators tenaciously continue driving improved sensor-to-sensor procedures to quickly find, fix and track enemy targets.
Rivet Joint aircrews and maintainers have effectively stood up three operating bases during their time in the AOR. They have constructed their own living quarters and work areas, shared space and equipment with other squadrons, moved to other bases and repeated the process -- all while continuing uninterrupted operations for two decades.
Many RJ operators and maintenance professionals echo Robert's recollection as he continues his story.
"When we showed up here in Southwest Asia it was just us and Red Horse, the bare base civil engineers," Robert said. "The Red Horse guys gave us tents and showed us how to put them together. We then spent the next year helping to build infrastructure, filling sandbags, spreading rocks and generally improving the base."
Our RJ team has seen the enormous transformation of the 379th AEW, and it is safe to say, will be a permanent fixture in any future Grand Slam Wing landscape.
As our veteran crewmembers recall our experiences in the early days, there is a common consensus among all of us. When we first arrived here, we found ourselves living in tents again. There was very little support so we just did the work ourselves and got the mission done.
The RJ continues getting the mission done -- 365 days a year -- and at the 379th AEW for the past decade.
Members of our squadron call themselves "Hunters." They stalk their prey unseen from above. The most successful hunters have the best training, employ the best specialized equipment, are constantly in the field and above all, are relentless in their drive to acquire and bring down their target.
I am proud to have grown up employing this capability in this AOR for the past 13 years. Countless lives have been saved by the persistence, dedication and professionalism of the RJ team.
Always on the Hunt!