by Senior Airman Maeson L. Elleman
18th Wing Public Affairs
5/1/2013 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- In
the quiet darkness surrounding the flightline here, the awaiting
aircraft roars to life with an escalated screech, and cool air rushes to
fill the newly-lit cabin.
As the chill meets the lingering humid air within the aircraft, a
smoke-like fog diffuses into the nooks and crevices around the computer
stations and throughout the cockpit.
While it sounds like a mysterious and menacing science fiction movie,
this is a commonplace occurrence for the E-3 Sentry crew from the 961st
Airborne Air Control Squadron.
Once the airborne warning and control system takes toward the horizon
and the dense fog begins to disperse, the cabin isn't the only thing
that becomes more visible to the crew, but rather the entire
With its command and control capabilities and intelligence, surveillance
and reconnaissance mission, the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control
System aircraft assigned to the unit opens the crew's and Kadena AB's
eyes to virtually everything in the air. It's this capability that
allows Kadena AB and other Air Force assets to project superior force
for any contingency.
"If a contingency kicks off in the area, we're the eyes in the sky,"
said Maj. Cliff King, the 961st AACS electronic combat officer. "It's
important to have AWACS in the sky for protection of our assets and
allies in the region."
Operating as the largest overseas combat wing, Kadena AB hosts multiple
airframes ranging from F-15 Eagles to HH-60G Pave Hawk search and rescue
However, AWACS crews provide essential air battle management and
comprehensive information on visibility and direction of practically all
aircraft in the region. Without this ability, all Air Force airborne
units would be blind to other aircraft in the battlespace.
Lt. Col. Trey Coleman, the 961st AACS director of operations, said that
capability is something that sets the Air Force apart from other
"I think that air battle management is a direct correlate to the rise of
American air power since the Vietnam War," Coleman said. "It's one of
those integral things that makes American air power unique and makes it
the best in the world."
Since its establishment here more than a decade ago, the 961st AACS has
provided unwavering and unmatched air battle management in the Pacific
area of responsibility.
There are 32 Sentries currently in the Air Force inventory. Air Combat
Command hosts 27 E-3s at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., while Pacific Air
Forces features four of the aircraft between Kadena AB and Joint Base
However, Coleman, who's been on Kadena AB since September last year,
said its expansive mission and strategic location make Kadena one of the
most important bases for deterring conflict in the region.
"I believe Kadena AB is the best and most important place in the world
to conduct air battle management," Coleman said. "In today's
geo-strategic context in the Pacific coupled with the downsizing of our
fleet, nowhere else is it more important to have effective and efficient
Though the 961st AACS has only claimed the iconic "ZZ" tail codes of the
18th Wing since 1991, the squadron hosts a lineage as the 61st
Bombardment Squadron commissioned in 1940, which predates those of its
fellow Sentry-laden sister units.
Despite altering its mission and equipment since it began in World War
II to the advanced systems it boasts now, Coleman said the equipment
isn't what gives American Airmen the deciding advantage.
Rather, he said, it's the legacy preceding the formation of the Air
Force, exemplified by Medal of Honor recipients and predecessors in
training and command.
"Our technology is fantastic, but it'll be out-aced in time," he said.
"What we bring to the table as American Airmen is a corporate wealth of
knowledge that spans all the way back to (retired Brig. Gen.) Billy
Mitchell and the Air Corps Tactical School."