By Steve Hart, Hunter Public AffairsJune 20, 2008
FORT STEWART, GA - As the "aggressor" aircraft approached friendly air space located 47 miles off the coast of Savannah, a Georgia Air National Guard officer, located in a van in the woods at a field site 200 miles away in Jacksonville, Fla., saw his computer screen flash with symbols representing the "enemy" aircraft.
"East Group, hostile, two contacts, twenty-six thousand, one-nine-zero dash three eight" Maj. Roosevelt Montgomery transmitted via his headset from his post in the control van to the four F-16 Falcon aircraft defending the air space. "Roger," an F-16 pilot responded. Armed with the bearing, range and altitude of the intruders, the F-16s scrambled to intercept the enemy.
That was the scenario June 9 when four F-16 fighter aircraft from the 169th Fighter Wing, South Carolina Air National Guard served as the "blue" or friendly forces defending air space against four F-15 Eagle fighter planes from the 125th Fighter Wing of the Florida Air National Guard. The exercise was conducted as part of the two-week-long annual field training for the reserve component units. Controlling the air space were the Airmen from 117th Air Control Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard, based at Hunter Army Airfield.
"This training is invaluable to our unit as it is very realistic in that it involves us deploying to an unknown environment just like as if we were called up (mobilized), said Lt. Col. Kevin Alwood, squadron commander, 117th ACS. "(We also exercise our ability) to move as a convoy, setup up our site, establish our connectivity with power and radar and work missions with fighter wing units."
One of nine air control squadrons in the National Guard, the unit's primary mission is air command and control.
Because the 183 Airmen of the unit only train one weekend each month, the two weeks of annual field training is invaluable to the unit honing its wartime skills.
"We train on simulators throughout the year, but they cannot completely include all the unexpected events that may arise," Alwood said.
The unit's noncommissioned officers and officers use the training to sustain their skills while the new airmen use the training to achieve the required standard of proficiency.
"We train as we fight," Roosevelt said. "Therefore, participating in a live mission allows us to greatly increase our proficiency."
The unit deployed to Iraq in 2006 where they were responsible for all air traffic operating over Iraq's 270,000 square miles of air space.
The unit's numerous and sophisticated computers and microwave dishes that access military satellites is vital to their ability to interrogate, or simply analyze, aircraft operating in their battle space using IFF (identify friend or foe) systems.
The data is gathered and entered into the computer systems from the 117th's surveillance trailer and is available to pilots in seconds.
In the exercise that day, the friendly force's F-16's thwarted the F-15's attack by downing one enemy fighter before the F-15's called off the attack.
One Airman is proud of what his unit brings to the fight.
"We make a direct impact on the fight by providing accurate information quickly," said Maj. David Bennett, air surveillance officer.