|Mountain Home Airmen Guard America |
Mountain Home Airmen Guard America
Mountain Home AFB, Idaho -- (ACCNS) December 21, 2001 -- Keeping an eye on air traffic in the western United States, the 726th Air Control Squadron here has been on the job -- insuring the friendly skies stay that way -- for the past 100 days, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As one of the first units to set up air defense operations in U.S. interior airspace after the Sept. 11 attacks, the unit conducts air traffic surveillance and, if need be, coordinates fighter intercepts of suspicious air traffic.
"We’re a combat unit," said Lt. Col. Kathy Stoddard, squadron commander. "We usually deploy into a battle theater and our team provides radar coverage of enemy territory. Guarding America through Operation Noble Eagle is something we never expected we would have to do."
Operation Noble Eagle refers to U.S. military operations for homeland defense and civil support to federal, state and local agencies in the U.S.
More than 200 people make up Stoddard’s unit. They are known on the radio by the call sign "Hardrock." They work with North American Aerospace Defense Command, located in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"NORAD’s mission prior to Sept. 11th was to track and monitor all aircraft entering the United States and the Canadian borders," said Stoddard. "Everything was designed to look for bombers and missiles approaching our coastlines, not inside them. That’s why my team is needed: We watch the inside of the country and look for any aircraft that doesn’t look, sound or act normal."
NORAD decides if the squadron controllers should direct an intercept of a potentially hostile aircraft. NORAD is responsible for more than 100 aircraft that are assigned to protect Alaska, Canada and the United States. E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft from the U.S. and NATO make regular patrols over NORAD’s airspace and fighters fly random combat air patrols. Most of the fighters stay ready on the ground in 15-minute alert status – ready to be airborne in less than 15 minutes if called upon.
To provide NORAD with fast and accurate information, the unit from Mountain Home AFB uses a long-range radar system called the AN/TPS-75. It’s capable of observing aircraft more than 240 miles away and more than 95,000 feet above the ground.
Operating from an eight-feet-wide by 20-feet-long box called an operations module, Hardrock teams consisting of four operators conduct searches, track targets, view and share weather information, send data and communications to various agencies, and stand ready to provide electronic countermeasures and jamming.
"We can’t discuss any of the specific operational aspects that reveal mission profiles and patterns useful to our adversaries," said Stoddard. "Those details include things like flight plans, routes, altitudes, times of flights or operations. If we were to talk about specific details of our mission, we could adversely affect national security and threaten the safety of not only our military men and women but our citizens as well."
With the motto "Prepared to go" on their squadron patch, the 726th Air Control Squadron is trained to deploy into forward battle areas and be as self-sufficient as possible. Hardrockers provide their own support in a bare-base environment including ground transportation, force protection, medical aid, maintenance, electricity, communications, shelters and tents, field showers and meals.
"It is a total team effort, from maintaining the equipment to operating and protecting the resources," said Stoddard. "Because we have outstanding airmen repairing and taking care of our equipment, we’re able to maximize the unit’s command-and-control capabilities. I’m very proud of the Hardrock team’s contributions to the defense of our great country."