Tuesday, August 31, 2010

EC-130H Compass Call Departs After 23,300 Flight Hours in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom

The last EC-130H Compass Call assigned to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing departed here Aug. 29 for deployment to another U.S. Central Command base, capping a 6.5 year tour of duty in which Compass Call crews flew some 23,300 combat hours in direct support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The 43rd Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron is home to the EC-130H aircraft and about 30 Airmen.
The move is another sign of the times for the U.S. military, which continues its responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq in order to meet a presidential mandate of only 50,000 troops in country by Aug. 31, said Lt. Col. J.D. Rye, the commander of the 43rd EECS. 

"The requirements for our capabilities in Iraq have decreased with the drawdown of forces and the scheduled completion of Operation Iraqi Freedom on Aug. 31, so we're shifting our assets to other locations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility," he said.

Those assets include the EC-130H, a specially configured version of the C-130 Hercules. It features electronic counter-measures and specialized communications-jamming equipment that allow crews to carry out what Colonel Rye called "non-kinetic close-air support."

"Think of it as providing an electronic umbrella for troops on the ground," he said. "What we bring to the fight lessens our troops' vulnerability because it denies the enemy's ability to gather information and communicate."

The 43rd EECS has been part of the wing here since June 24, 2004. During that time, its crews have flown more than 3,300 combat sorties providing a shield of protection to more than 150,000 coalition troops stationed in Iraq. That shield helped prevent the detonation of multiple improvised explosive devices and assisted in the clearing of more than 100 IEDs, Colonel Rye said.

As OIF transformed to nation-building and counterinsurgency operations, the 43rd EECS transformed too, supporting special operations against Al-Qaeda and other Iraqi insurgent groups. Since 2008, those missions resulted in the capture of 402 high-value individuals and 386 persons of interest. They also resulted in the seizure of 136 weapons caches and more than 100 enemies killed in action.

Airmen in the 43rd EECS protected supply convoys and reconstruction projects from attack, too, ensuring the successful rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure.

"It's an amazing feeling to know that the mission we've performed has helped save lives on the ground," Colonel Rye said. "That's what keeps us coming to work day after day, week after week, year after year. We've been at the 386th (AEW) for almost seven years -- 23,300 hours of flight time -- and if we saved one life, it was worth it.

"Maybe we helped save a hundred lives. Maybe we helped save a thousand lives," he said. "It's impossible to know for sure, but we were here and we provided non-kinetic close-air support for people on the ground when they really needed it. Now, with the end of OIF and the beginning of Operation New Dawn, our capabilities are no longer required in the Iraqi theater of operations. That's a success in my book, no matter how you look at it."

Col. Scott Brewer, the commander of the 386th Expeditionary Operations Group here, agreed.

"The EC-130H Compass Call is an incredible aircraft, but it is the people who launched them, the people who flew them and the people who sustained and repaired them that allowed the 43rd EECS to provide precise electronic-attack effects, enabling combat operations that protected Iraqi citizens since the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom," he said.

"These professional Airmen have been involved in many noteworthy and historic actions. With the transition to Operation New Dawn, the 43rd EECS's mission in Iraq is coming to a close. I wish them well as they take on new assignments."

Colonel Rye expressed his appreciation for the support provided by the 386th AEW through the years, calling it "one of the finest organizations I've ever worked with."

"This has been an outstanding tour because the 386th has been such a great wing from which to operate," he said. "But now we're looking forward to engaging with our new mission and providing our capabilities to ground forces anywhere we're needed in the (Central Command area of responsibility). Nothing could be more rewarding than that."

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