SOUTHWEST ASIA - Joint combat environments don't just exist on the ground, but also exist in the sky above Iraq.

U.S. Army Soldiers serve as crewmembers on the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft. An Army deputy mission crew commander and two enlisted personnel form a team of three soldiers on the 21-person JSTARS crew to assist in finding, fixing, tracking, targeting and engaging enemy forces throughout Iraq.

"They're a vital part of the crew; we're together whether at home or deployed. We fly, fight, and win together as one joint team," said Lt. Col. Joe Schmidt, the 128th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron commander. "We rely on one another; it's a joint fight anytime, anywhere."

Joint STARS evolved from Army and Air Force programs developed to detect, locate and attack enemy armor at ranges beyond the forward area of U.S. ground forces. The aircrew uses the E-8C's radar and communications systems to provide a one-of-a-kind command and control capability focused exclusively on air to ground operations.

"E-8C aircrews use the radar, called moving target indicator, to detect what is moving on the ground. This radar data is sent via datalink to ground forces operating Joint STARS Common Ground Stations located throughout Iraq," Colonel Schmidt said. "This data is either exploited real time or used post mission by CGS personnel to provide tactical ground commanders a comprehensive and common view of the battlefield for battle management, intelligence and targeting operations.

"Meanwhile, the aircrew fuses the real-time radar data with available intelligence information to provide direct guidance and support to fighters, attack helicopters, joint terminal attack controllers, and ground maneuver units in the field," Colonel Schmidt said.

"We make sure the CGS operators get as much intelligence and data they require to do their mission and keep ground forces safe," said Army Staff Sgt. Gregg Swanson, the 128th EACCS Airborne Targeting Surveillance supervisor.

Ground forces have conducted operations using the information received from Joint STARS to successfully find numerous weapons caches, improvised explosive device emplacers, and border smuggling routes.

"I used to be on the ground in Iraq, looking at the MTI, and now I'm on the Air Force side of the house," Sergeant Swanson said. "It's helped me give better inputs and understand how I can best get ground forces the help they need."

The joint aircrew also aids in communication between the services. When things get passed between the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, some things tend to get lost in translation.

"All of us together, with all of our different information and skill sets, are able to better support ground commanders," said 1st Lt. Lawrence Brown, 128th EACCS air weapons officer. "It's a powerful mission system with the soldiers combining all of their experience and knowledge with Air Force mission crews."

Enlisted soldiers serving on Joint STARS must be NCOs who have previously served as an Army CGS operator to fly on the E-8C.

Another facet of Joint STARS is that the 128th EACCS, like all Joint STARS flying squadrons, epitomizes Total Force operations with approximately 20 percent of the unit composed of Georgia Air National Guardsmen.

The unit is one of only three operational squadrons worldwide, all stationed at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., Colonel Schmidt said.

The aircraft and its operators, maintainers, and support personnel have had a continuous presence in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility as part of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing since May 2003.

"I'm proud to say Joint STARS has now logged over 25,000 flight hours serving in either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom," Colonel Schmidt said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16