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JSTARS: numbers don’t lie

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley L. Gardner)

Capt. Zachary Roberts, 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems navigator, sets up computer systems in an E-8C JSTARS aircraft prior to take-off at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar on Sept. 30, 2019. The E-8C JSTARS aircrew report the information they collect to ground and air commanders to ensure coalition forces have real-time data in support of in-theater operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley L. Gardner)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley L. Gardner)

Senior Airman Zachary Palo, 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems airborne radar technician, checks his oxygen mask prior to take-off at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar on Sept. 30, 2019. The E-8C JSTARS Airmen executed airborne command and control to support force protection, defensive operations, over-watch and combat search and rescue missions in the U.S. Air Force Central Command. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley L. Gardner)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley L. Gardner)

Staff Sgt. Thomas Rice, 379th Expeditionary Air Maintenance Squadron crew chief, directs an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems aircraft for take-off at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar on Sept. 30, 2019. The E-8C JSTARS Airmen conduct missions overseas to support operations in the U.S. Air Force Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley L. Gardner)

Al Udeid AB, Qatar --

The 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron reached a major milestone by flying the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System for more than 113,000 combat hours in support of coalition operations throughout the Gulf region Sept. 30, 2019. 

“The squadron total is 113,337 combat hours in Central Command,” said Maj. Michael Gray, 7th EACCS director of operations. “That’s in the history of the program at Al Udeid. Right now, our squadron flies the most hours on the installation.”

The JSTARS provide commanders with vital intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to help maintain security and stability in the region. This robust communication suite allows for the execution of airborne command and control which boosts force protection, defensive operations, over-watch and combat search and rescue missions.

“ISR is important to the intelligent preparation of the environment where U.S. and coalition forces operate every day,” said Lt. Col. Vida Roeder, 7th EACCS commander. “This vital information provides the required situational awareness to both flying platforms and ground troops.”

With a mission this vast and impactful, maintenance on the 1960s Boeing 707 JSTARS aircraft is vital.  Prior to being converted to JSTARS, the aircraft already had 20 to 60 thousand flight hours. Sustaining an aircraft that is older than the Airmen who work on it can be a challenge.

The JSTARS maintenance crews ensure the aircraft are available to meet mission requirements enabling the squadron to reach a significant milestone in combat hours by making sure the equipment and parts are functioning properly.

“It is hard to keep a jet running when you have the heat that you have here,” said Col. Konata Crumbly, 116th Air Control Wing commander from Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. “The aircraft are older but [the Airmen] are making them fly better. Not only did they uphold the standard, they exceeded the standard.”

The team, comprised of active duty personnel, Georgia Air National Guardsmen and a small component of reservists, keep the JSTARS operation going. Together they provide 24/7 operations for the mission that is constantly evolving.

The JSTARS Airmen have supported nearly every operation in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility for the past two decades including Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Freedom Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve.

“I am proud of my crews that came out here, some of them on their first combat deployment, flying every other day, putting up about 105 combat missions in the past four months,” said Gray. “They are a big piece of why we have excelled out here.”