February 24, 2009 (by SSgt. Thomas J. Doscher) - Airmen with the 43rd Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, a unit that has almost five years of continuous deployment, clocked their 20,000th combat flight hour early Feb. 17.
The 43rd EECS aircrews and the EC-130 Compass Call aircraft they fly provide communications jamming support to U.S. and coalition ground forces in Iraq.
"The support we provide to the ground forces is unlike anything else in the Air Force," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Weber, a 43rd EECS airborne maintenance technician, or AMT.
"I would say hopefully we've done our share in protecting those guys on the ground," said Maj. David Kendall, a 43rd EECS aircraft commander. "You can see the progress in the papers, on the ground, from the air and talking to the people who've served on the ground there."
Major Kendall said he has a little experience with this particular mission. Originally from Dyer, Ind., he is on his fifth deployment here, and he's flown 1,400 of those 20,000 combat hours. He said the progress being made in Iraq can be felt just in the types of missions the 43rd aircrews fly.
"Our missions are definitely wide-ranging when it comes to the support we give," he said. "It's progressed through the years in terms of direct operations to more of the support role for some of the reconstruction projects, providing some protection so they can start oil production, electric generation facilities. So it's not even a direct combat operation we're supporting. "
The support the 43rd Airmen have provided since the first people deployed here in 2004 is hard to quantify, said Lt. Col. David Delmonaco, 43rd EECS commander. Where other platforms can point to the number of bombs dropped, the Compass Call's success can only be quantified by the number of bad things that didn't happen, he said.
"We send non-lethal, non-kinetic fires," said Colonel Delmonaco. "So we're not dropping bombs, we're not shooting bullets, but we are using this weapon system to prevent things from happening or to make things happen the enemy isn't anticipating."
Colonel Delmonaco said he's always tried to show his Airmen the impact of what they're doing.
"It can become challenging to keep the guys focused on the mission, to show them what we're doing is making an impact," he said. "We show them the round-up numbers, the number of high-value targets we've helped capture, the number of sensitive sites, areas that we've gone into between raids and convoy support to show the human element of what our impacts are."
Major Kendall said he's seen the impacts his squadron has made on the flights he's taken back to the U.S.
"On several occasions, when I've met individuals we've supported, they've come up and offered a handshake and said, 'Hey, you guys supported us on our ops and we appreciate it.' The words, 'Compass Call,' are pretty well known around those circles."
Airmen have been deployed here continuously since 2004, so it's not unusual for 43rd EECS members to have four or five deployments under their belts. Despite this, Colonel Delmonaco said morale remains high.
"I send guys home on the rotator, and I know they're going to be back here in three or four months, and they still have a smile on their face, and they still accomplish the mission in an exemplary manner," he said.
Airman 1st Class Noah Weimer, a 43rd EECS AMT, said he wouldn't have it any other way.
"That's why I joined," he said. "I wanted to go. I wanted to do something. We're contributing big to the war effort, protecting guys on the ground."
Sergeant Weber said the results are worth the time.
"If we can support for just 30 seconds, it's always worth it," he said. "I compare my life to the men on the ground and what they do, and 12 hours of flying around for 30 seconds of support is 100 percent worth it."
Colonel Delmonaco said it's people like Major Kendall, Sergeant Weber and Airman Weimer that make the mission work.
"I can't emphasize enough how important the people are," he said. "This is the fight of our generation. No matter how we got to this point, we're here, we're making an impact and we're changing the course of this war through electronic attack."