763 ERS ensures near-perfect combat support, saves lives
By Senior Airman Clinton Atkins, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 30, 2008
Southwest Asia -- Like clockwork, an RC-135 Rivet Joint crew reaches their jet. As the plane gets ready for takeoff, an unforeseen maintenance issue keeps the plane grounded. Every minute that passes is critical. Seamlessly and methodically, another crew jumps off the bench and into the game with another RC-135.
The 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron here is always ready for anything because being minutes late potentially means loss of life.
The 763 ERS uses the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft to support theater and national-level consumers with near real-time on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities providing an "ear to the street" capability to U.S. and Coalition Forces.
"We survey the battle space and the electronic spectrum and we give the information to our customers so they can understand what's going on," said 763 ERS Commander Lt. Col. Thomas Nicholson, from Cincinnati, Ohio. "We operate a lot of cutting edge technology and it makes a big difference in the battle space."
The 763 ERS' readiness comes from almost 20 years of experience in Southwest Asia, which allows them to support the area of responsibility's high demand for the RC-135's support.
"We didn't initially aim for this [level of readiness]," said Tech. Sgt. Adam Triplett, 763 ERS airborne mission supervisor, deployed from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom. "[That capability] isn't built into our footprint here, but we established it to ensure we are striving for 100 percent mission accomplishment."
The RC-135's weapon systems are operated by approximately 25-member crews composed of pilots, navigators, electronic warfare officers, cryptological operators, airborne systems engineers and intelligence officers. The 763 ERS currently has more than 200 servicemembers not including the 55th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, which supports the 1960s-era airframe.
With the unit's size and tenacity, the 763 ERS is able to maintain its high rate of effectiveness and reliability.
"Every hour I spend giving my best effort to the customer is an hour spent making sure I save that guy's [rear]," Sergeant Triplett said.
On mission planning and post mission days, crews analyze missions and coordinate with customers and higher headquarters.
"Mission planning is a big portion of what we do here," said Capt. Tarry Lawson, 763 ERS tactical coordinator, deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
The 763 ERS has a high operations tempo and with little time spent away from work, fatigue is one of the unit's greatest inhibitors.
"You sleep when you're tired and you eat when you're hungry," said Capt. Kevin Larson, 763 ERS navigator deployed from Offutt AFB. "That's about all you can do is try to stay healthy."
Though their job is demanding, the crew members enjoy being deployed.
"It's a joy to go to work, because we know something new is going to happen every day," he said. "It's never the same."
Some of the servicemembers were in training for years before having the satisfaction of flying on their first sortie. The amount of time it takes the various servicemembers onboard the RC-135 to reach flight qualification for their jobs ranges from one to as many as 10 years.
"Some of [the Airmen in my career field] will reenlist before they even fly their first sortie," Sergeant Triplett said.
Even now, the RC-135 Airmen are in a constant state of training. RC-135s are upgraded with the latest technology every few years.
"[The RC-135's] technology has to evolve with [modern] technology," said Lt. Col. Carl Misner, 763 ERS director of operations, deployed from Offutt AFB. "It's an ongoing evolution."
Adding new technology on an aging airframe does not come without its burdens, but the 55 AMU maintainers learn the new systems without skipping a beat to keep the RC-135s in the fight.
"The maintainers here understand what we do and how important it is," said Colonel Misner, from La Vista, Neb. "They're doing everything they can to keep these jets flying.
"They feel a sense of pride that they are part of the fight with us," he said. "They're turning wrenches knowing they are putting an aircraft in combat."
The 763 ERS Airmen take pride in their efforts knowing they directly impact the Global War on Terror.
"It's about saving lives," said Capt. Tarry Lawson, from Papillion, Neb. "We save lives every day."