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Preparing the Air Battle Management Team to Join the Flight

By: Gen. Lori Jean Robinson, USAF

Lori Robinson being welcomed home by her husband David

I have thought long and hard about this article to submit to the Daedalus Flyer…I have had so many amazing experiences in my 37-year career. I finally landed on my time as the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing Operations Group Commander in 2002. There was so much going on in the wing when I arrived and took over as the commander. We had jets in Saudi Arabia (Enforcing UN Sanctions), Turkey (Operation Northern Watch), Oman (Operation Enduring Freedom), executing counter-drug missions, as well as Noble Eagle missions. And as my time in the seat grew longer, there were “rumors” about another tasking coming in the next few weeks…

 As the Operations Group Commander, I was responsible for ensuring that crews who deployed to support the upcoming tasking were trained and ready to execute the CFACCs air tasking order (ATO). And while I needed to provide guidance to squadron commanders, and adapt the training program for this tasking, the Operations Group was not the only part of the team preparing to deploy. The Communication Group, the Maintenance Group, and the AF Reserve component were also going to be tasked. Each of the three Group Commanders met often to ensure that all efforts were synchronized. While the group commanders knew what was expected of them, we had incredible leadership and guidance from our Wing Commander, General Mike Hostage. His clear, unambiguous expectations made it simple to understand and follow. The 552 was so lucky to have such an incredible leader at the helm.

 The certainty of the tasking came in December 2002 when JSTARS deployed to Saudi Arabia. It became even more likely that the AWACs would be called on to provide command and control for the coalition forces. As a result, the weapons officers, and the weapons and tactics shop began to modify the training program to meet the updated theater and Air Tasking Order (ATO) needs. Once the training tapes were created, each of the four operational squadrons put together the crews that were going to deploy and began to run through the simulators to practice and refine their skills. At the same time, the named deployed squadron leadership began to put together the necessary capability for in-theater execution. This consisted of a mini-Operational Support Squadron, to provide all the necessary mission planning, brief and debrief capabilities, and theater liaison officers, just to name a few needs. All of this activity happened with a very small footprint, and with a very quiet external voice. This went on for about 6 weeks.

 There was also very close coordination with the crews and leadership that was already deployed. It was necessary that we had the right jets with the right configurations in the right location. That created some stress in the system, but it was important to all three groups, so that the people who were deployed were paired with the proper equipment.

 While the 552 did not have a formal tasking until very close to their actual deployment, it was important that the leadership do a couple of things. One was to certify all the aircrew were trained and prepared to execute to the CFACC’s standards. That certification was not just for the OG/CC to do, but also for the WG/CC to approve. Another was meeting with the families to let them know that while their loved ones might be deployed, they would not be alone. It was so important that families understand that they are a part of the team, and their care and wellbeing were high on the leadership’s list. Finally, as the deployment date was imminent, it was crucial to gather deployers and give a “go to war” speech. The meeting started with Gen Hostage giving his amazing inspirational talk, letting everyone know that he was confident and proud of them, and their ability to put everything together across the groups and execute the ATO. I had the privilege also to talk to the aircrews about what they had been training for the previous weeks, and what they were unbelievably prepared to do. But most of all, I wanted them to know how incredibly proud I was of all of them and knew they would meet the demand as top-notch professionals.

 The day came, the 552 received their tasking to deploy to Saudi Arabia. They took 5 jets full of people and gear so that they were prepared to hit the ground running. And as Gen Hostage and I stood on the ramp, saluting each jet as it took off from Tinker with the final destination of Riyadh AB in Saudi Arabia, I reflected on the entire wing effort for weeks, and I knew that they would be awesome. I took so much pride in our collective efforts and it was so fulfilling to watch those jets, people and capability deploy, to answer the call of the national command authority and our Nation.

 Upon completion of the 552nd AWACS Wing’s efforts supporting both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, we were able to bring all the jets, crews, maintainers, and communication professionals home for the first time in the Wing’s history. The wing had been deployed, supporting multiple efforts throughout the world for 25 years. It gave us the opportunity to do a comprehensive look back at our part in OIF, and derive appropriate lessons learned. AWACS combat operations from 19 March 2003-28 May 2003 saw the team fly 277 sorties, 2,929.5 combat/combat support hours, with 2,198.7 hours on station, with a 101% combat effectiveness. Inside those hours, the mission crews controlled 700+ strike packages, 13,000+ aerial refuelings, and 150+ time-sensitive targets. 

Additionally, AWACS crews participated in the rescue of 8 American POWs as well as 15 Combat Search and Rescue missions. It was a testament to the training and mission rehearsal events that all the combat crews participated in before they deployed. They were just awesome then and they continue to be the cornerstone to tactical command and control wherever and whenever they are needed.

Lori Robinson was a weapons controller and air battle manager who rose to command the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Unified Combatant Command.