Find Fix and Finish: Air Force MC-12W mission transitions to Army
By Master Sgt. Cohen A. Young, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published October 16, 2014
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The U.S. Air Force inactivated the 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, and the U.S. Army stood up Joint Task Force Thor here, Oct. 1, 2014.
The transition of authority ceremony began at 6:40 a.m. as the last MC-12W Liberty flying a 4 ERS mission landed ending more than 40,000 combat missions and over 200,000 hours of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support since December 2009.
The 4 ERS was part of the Project Liberty program created in response to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance requirement shortfalls in the skies of Afghanistan. The program developed the MC-12W to execute its combat role using highly modified versions of Beechcraft 350 aircraft. Project Liberty rocketed from concept to combat in only 10 months, which made it one of the fastest aircraft acquisition programs since the P-51 Mustang development during World War II.
The 4 ERS was one of three Project Liberty Squadrons whose core mission was to provide real-time tactical ISR to combatant commanders in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. The other squadrons were the 362nd ERS at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and the 361st ERS at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, which was inactivated Sept. 1, 2014.
“The history and success of the Project Liberty Program is attributed to one thing—the people,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Tanner Woolsey, 4 ERS commander. “They are Airmen and Soldiers along with our contract maintenance team. They are the people who will go down in history as part of one of the greatest tactical success stories of Operation Enduring Freedom. After 2009, many tactical actions in this Area of Operation included an MC-12W in the ISR loop or kill chain.”
The transition of authority process was no easy task, and there was a significant amount of planning involved for both the Air Force and the Army.
“There has been a tremendous amount of effort involved with the transition of authority of the MC-12W from the Air Force to the Army,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Shinn, 4 ERS superintendent. “The ToA process entailed coordination between the units, detailed cross-talks, organizing and prepping of various accounts for transfer, authoring Joint TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures] and MOAs [memorandums of agreement], synchronizing lines of effort, establishing common and realistic expectations, and developing continuity programs for essentially every single process or program a typical Air Force unit does on a daily basis.”
The squadron continued to operate effectively during this transition period. From October 2013 to September 2014, the MC-12W contributed to operations that removed 2,450 enemy combatants from the battle space, including 375 high value individuals killed or captured, according to Lt. Col. Patrick Boland, outgoing 4 ERS commander.
Although the Air Force will no longer have the lead, the mission will continue under the Army led Joint Task Force Thor.
“I am truly humbled by the opportunity to serve as the commander of Joint Task Force Thor,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col Christopher S. Cutler, commander 306th Military Intelligence Battalion, Joint Task Force Odin. “I have observed the Airmen, Soldiers and contractors of this command. It is clear that we have the right people in the right place and this is a strong team. My confidence is unwaivered with our responsibility to support the war fighter with the lethality of our shared intelligence.”
“Being a part of the 4th ERS and the MC-12W community has been a significant part of my Air Force career,” added Shinn. “We were bestowed with the tremendous responsibility of affecting the battle space by locating enemy combatants, as well as providing over watch to protect our friendly forces and coalition partners. The MC-12W community has built a legacy, and set the standard for airborne tactical Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. I'm enormously proud to have been a part of this unit and its mission, and the inactivation is bittersweet for many of us.”
Although the 4 ERS has encased its banner, Airmen will still remain with the unit. There will be a mix of Airmen and Soldiers working together in Joint Task Force Thor.
“As we move forward, our Army and our Air Force will be paving history in the aerial ISR community,” added Cutler.