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Hiding In Plain Sight
by USAF Tech. Sgt. Shawn McCowan - August 4, 2012

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BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (7/25/2012) — The intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance community likes its privacy. ISR is also well-known for their use of new technologies. The MC-12 Liberty might be the epitome of ISR character.

An MC-12 sits on the runway in preparation for a flight at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, June 29, 2012. The MC-12 mechanics inspect each aircraft after they land so that they're prepared for the next flight. Photo by USAF Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Nevison
An MC-12 sits on the runway in preparation for a flight at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, June 29, 2012. The MC-12 mechanics inspect each aircraft after they land so that they're prepared for the next flight. Photo by USAF Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Nevison

The ISR community began using the MC-12 in early 2009, and introduced it to Bagram Air Field later that year as the 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. Among the myriad of military aircraft spread across the flight line, this unassuming newcomer looked completely out of place. But what looked like a small executive “island hopper” was actually a state-of-the-art ISR total package.

This indispensable multi-role aircraft supports all aspects of the Air Force irregular warfare mission, and quickly became the busiest aircraft on the ramp. For the last three years, the Air Force pulled men and women from many different backgrounds and airframes to fly and maintain this “secret agent.”

Ed Cartier, Jr., 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron Maintenance line lead, is in charge of making sure the available aircraft are kept ready to fly on a very tight schedule.

“Working out here is completely different from home. The pace is faster and you work more hours,” Cartier said. “There are also more personnel here than usual on this airframe, so you get to meet people from different walk of life.”

Cartier has not only worked on various airframes as a civilian, but he's also quite familiar with the military side of the house.

“I was in the Air Force from 1991 to 1995 at Minot AFB. I worked on KC-135 Stratotankers and B-52 Stratofortresses as a Guidance and Control Specialist, so it's great to be working with the military again.”

Airmen and civilians are constantly working together in 4 ERS, so unity is paramount. That doesn't seem to be an issue for the team.

“The camaraderie is great between Air Force personnel and civilians. And there's no obvious separation between military and civilians,” Cartier said. “Whether civilian or military, you feel like you're part of a team where everybody knows their job, and knows their part in the mission. So it's a great working environment.”

After Cartier, Jr.'s team's work is done, more specialized Airmen step up to do their part. The MC-12 is highly modified with special sensors, a ground exploitation cell, line-of-sight and satellite communications datalinks, and a robust voice communications suite. So team members have to be expertly trained to prepare the aircraft and crew for a variety of possible mission.

Staff Sgt Janet Gonzalez, deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is NCOIC of crew communications. She understands the importance of her part of the mission.

“I'm responsible for providing the crew with specific guidance, and encryption information they need for that day's mission. So the info has to be up-to-the-minute and accurate,” Gonzalez said.

Accurate info is crucial for the four-person crew. The mission could be counter insurgency, foreign internal defense, or even supporting a partnership-building capacity.

Just like the uniqueness of the MC-12 mission at Bagram, Gonzalez's duties are different from her duties at Ramstein.

“It's my first time working on any aircraft. This gives me a different perspective on Air Force operations. I enjoy it because I get to work with civilian maintainers, special agents and aircrew. That makes my job interesting. They teach me a generic perspective of their missions. The aircrew really seems to enjoy talking about what they did that day,” said Gonzalez.

The 4 ERS mission's combination of fast operational tempo, uniqueness, and importance to troops on the ground, seems to deeply appeals to both maintainers and crew alike.

Senior Airman Joel Hunt, from Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, is an intelligence analyst with 4 ERS. He says he values his part in the 4th ERS mission, and has become attached to it.

“I enjoy my job because my actions have a direct impact on the mission which is immediate,” said Hunt. “I absolutely love being out here and being a part of the 4th ERS. I will have a hard time leaving.”

Staff Sgt. John Busbee, from Kadena AB, Japan, is an MC-12 sensor operator with 4 ERS. He agrees with Hunt's sense of attachment to the mission.

“At home we control airborne fighters. Here I work with ground forces too, helping them through any situation they may encounter with enemies,” Busbee said. “I feel like I'm doing more here; that I'm a direct part of the process that brings them back safely, instead of being back at home station working from thousands of miles away,” Busbee added.

When the MC-12s land, the mission isn't complete yet, for the team of dedicated civilians, yet again, take the necessary time to asses every inch of the aircraft in accomplishing a thorough post-mission inspection.

While data gathered from the flight is processed, the maintenance team restarts their work, checking everything from the engine compartments to the landing gear in preparation for the next mission, which could be entirely different than the previous one, and might be just minutes away.

By USAF Tech. Sgt. Shawn McCowan
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2012

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