Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Face of Defense: Congo Native Expands Horizons in U.S. Military

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez
31st Fighter Wing

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy, Oct. 8, 2013 – At 15 years old, a young man who spoke no English left Africa on a journey to America that would change his life.

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Air Force Staff Sgt. Alain Mukendi teaches an Airman Leadership School class at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Oct. 3, 2013. Mukendi, who is fluent in French, returned to Africa for a 30-day immersion after being selected for the Language Enabled Airman Program. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Air Force Staff Sgt. Alain Mukendi, an Airman Leadership School instructor here, grew up speaking French and three African dialects. In 1999, his father won the Diversity Visa lottery, allowing his family to move to the United States. Two years later, Mukendi and his family made St. Louis their new home.

"I hated it for the first six months,” Mukendi said. “It was extremely difficult, because it was a complete 180-degree change. From the culture to the language, everything was different. I was afraid to speak, because I did not want to be made fun of."

Two weeks after arriving in St. Louis, Mukendi was enrolled in school where he managed to learn enough English to graduate in two years. A few months later, he enlisted in the Air Force, a decision he said was steered by the benefits. At the time, he added, he didn’t know how much more the Air Force would give him.

"I needed a root canal, and it was going to cost me about $500 to get it done," he said. "By chance, I came across a recruiter. He explained the benefits, and then I made one of the best decisions in my life."

As he progressed through basic training, Mukendi said, he learned to speak loudly and clearly despite the language barrier. He built the confidence needed throughout basic and technical training as he learned to be a leader among his peers.

"I was forced to speak in basic training, but it was good for me," he said. "I had no choice but to execute and do my job as an airman. I even became a [designated leader] and helped to lead 300 students."

As his confidence grew, so did his ability to effectively communicate with his peers. This newfound skill eventually helped him transition from being the student to being the teacher.

"I was inspired to share the experiences and background and give back to the Air Force as much as he could," Mukendi said.

Mukendi now uses his 11 years of military experience helping lead future noncommissioned officers as an Airman Leadership School instructor. He also is learning to become a regional expert through his Language Enabled Airman Program selection.

LEAP helps the Air Force to meet its global requirements by developing and maintaining cultural and language capabilities. Mukendi, who is fluent in French, was given the opportunity after his selection to go back to Africa to further develop his language proficiency to help the Air Force.

"I am blessed with the aptitude of a different language, and I am happy that the Air Force recognizes that," he said. "This is a great opportunity, as I am able to give back to the Air Force through my cultural experience."

On his return to Africa, Mukendi and several other LEAP selectees stayed in Lome University in Togo. Throughout the stay, interaction among the students, the local civilians and military personnel helped to immerse them in the culture every day.

"It was great learning new things -- the locals took good care of us," Mukendi said. "I learned a phrase while I was there -- ‘C'est gratuit’ -- which means ‘It's free.’ They were basically telling us that whatever deeds they did for us were free, and we did not have to worry about giving anything back."
The 30-day stay in Togo gave him lot more back than expected, Mukendi said.

"As a young boy, I was always taught that it's all about giving back," he said. "I am finally giving back to the Air Force, who has given so much to me. I am able to share my experiences with my students, coworkers and future airmen."

Total force win

by Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo
22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

10/7/2013 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan.  -- The 22nd and 931st Operations Support Squadrons were recently awarded the Air Force Association 2013 Verne Orr award in Washington, D.C.

The award, which is named in honor of Verne Orr, the 14th Secretary of the Air Force, is meant to recognize the mission oriented unit that most efficiently used their personnel, and it is the total force integration of the active and Reserve operations support squadrons that brought it to McConnell.

"It is, by and large, a fully integrated team in the OSS," said Lt. Col. Martin Daack, 22nd OSS commander. "While some units in my squadron, like the tower and airfield management, don't have Reserve counterparts, the active duty Airmen in flights such as aircrew life equipment work side-by-side with their Reserve partners."

While some of the integration was initially met with resistance, the two units are now so intertwined that it is almost impossible to differentiate between Reserve and active duty in multiple shops.

"If an aircrew member comes up to the window at AFE to check out their helmet for a flight," said Daack, "there may be a Reservist or there may be an active duty person there, and it is completely transparent. You would have no idea who's active and who's Reserve unless you knew them personally."

It is because of this unique design the Airmen in the OSS are still able to provide global reach since the government shutdown.

"With the furlough of all my civilian employees, the 931st Air Refueling Group has had to curtail our flying operations with little or no lead time," said Col. Mark Larson, 931st ARG commander. "Our active duty counterparts were able to step in and immediately assist in re-planning missions to provide support to our scheduled receivers, thus salvaging many missions and providing necessary training."

The innate ability of the two squadrons to efficiently accomplish the mission led to many other awards throughout the last year, including multiple major command and Air Force level victories. The combined OSS team won five out of seven available fuel savings initiative awards at last year's Airlift/Tanker Association convention, said Larson.

The OSS is being used as an example of how a TFI unit should work in the anticipated arrival of the KC-46A tanker.

"It is because of the success we experienced in the OSS that we are anxiously seeking opportunities to combine our flying squadrons in preparation for the hopeful arrival of the KC-46A," said Larson. "I am continually using them as an example of how to do 'Total Force' the right way."

While the "on-paper" aspects of the squadrons is already outstanding, Larson emphasized that it is the actual, in-person operations that make the OSS stand out.

"As a pilot, I see firsthand the efficiencies created by work sharing and leveraging our respective strengths every time I fly," he said. "It is a one stop shop regardless of whether you are active duty or a reservist. Our processes are standardized and efficient; the OSS model is the way forward."

Centcom Advisor Promotes Interagency Synergy in Middle East

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2013 – When Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III travels anywhere within the U.S. Central Command region or meets with his staff to discuss activities and operations, Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger is never far from his side.

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Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger, a senior Foreign Service officer, serves as senior foreign policy advisor to Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command. DOD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Dawn Price

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Ranneberger, a senior Foreign Service officer, serves as Austin’s senior foreign policy advisor. He’s among about 100 high-level State Department officers, referred to as policy advisors assigned directly to military service chiefs, major headquarters staffs, and to Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, and the other combatant commanders.

Then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the importance of close interagency communication and collaboration in U.S. international affairs when he introduced what has grown into the State Department’s Foreign Policy Advisor Program more than a half-century ago.

Never has this collaboration been more important than in today’s globally connected world, and nowhere does it apply more directly than in Centcom’s dynamic and often volatile area of operations, Ranneberger said during a telephone interview from the command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

Ranneberger’s explained that his job is to help improve the processes that enable all elements of U.S. power -- “hard” military power and “soft” diplomatic and economic power -- to work in synch to support U.S. strategic objectives in the region.

“I like to describe my role as being a catalyst and facilitator of information and communication between Centcom and the State Department and other interlocutors in Washington, and with U.S. missions in the region,” he said.

That begins within Centcom, where Ranneberger regularly shares his diplomatic insights and knowledge of U.S. policy and strategic objectives to help Austin and other senior staff members in their decision-making.

Calling Austin “a remarkably inclusive type of leader,” Ranneberger said he “welcomes and encourages the presentation of different points of view” from his staff.

“He very much encourages a whole-of-government-type approach, so as a result, our interaction is very close,” he said.

Ranneberger also coordinates closely with State Department officials in Washington, and U.S. Embassy country teams throughout Centcom’s 20-nation region. He sits in on most of Austin’s meetings with foreign leaders.

“There are always lots of questions in the region about U.S. policy -- about what we are going to do on different issues, whether it is Syria or Afghanistan or Egypt or you name it,” he said. “So we strive to present a coherent view of what the U.S. government policy is.”

Despite different cultures between DOD and the State Department and the ways they operate, Ranneberger said, he’s a firm believer that diplomacy and military power go hand in hand.

“If you look at it, we are doing precisely the same thing, which is to advance U.S. national security interests by using our different tools,” he said. “I have always seen the work of the military as integral to diplomatic activity. So it is not an ‘either-or’ -- either we have diplomacy or we have military action. Sometimes it is a combination of both, or one that reinforces the ability to achieve the other.”
Austin recognized the importance of leveraging all elements of national power to address challenges in the region long before arriving at Centcom.

“Our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us that to achieve our goals and objectives, we must balance all the instruments of national power,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing in February.

“The complexity of the current operating environment requires a whole-of-government approach that leverages the individual strengths of the interagency, to include our military and diplomatic partners and others,” he said.

Austin told the panel he hopes to expand this unity of effort by identifying common goals early on and working together to achieve them. It’s a process he said needs to expand to include “all stages of planning and operations,” and that needs to start before, rather than in the midst of, a crisis.

“By working together on a routine basis, we will effectively align goals and objectives, improve communications and enhance the understanding of one another’s methods and perspectives,” he said. “This will ultimately enhance individual and U.S. government effectiveness.”

Pentagon Official: U.S. Must Continue to Work with Somalia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2013 – Progress in Somalia has been “significant,” a senior Defense Department official told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, and the United States will continue to work with the Somali government to defeat terrorism there.

Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told the committee that al-Shabaab -- an al-Qaida affiliated terrorist group -- once controlled large swaths of Somalia, including most Somali cities.

“Today, Somali, [African Union Mission in Somalia] and Ethiopian forces have weakened al-Shabaab as a conventional fighting force in Somalia,” she said in prepared remarks.

Still, al-Shabaab remains dangerous, she said. The terror group is capable of launching sophisticated unconventional attacks aimed at the African Union mission and the fledgling Somali government, Dory told the senators.

“For the foreseeable future,” she added, “we must maintain focus on Somalia to sustain security progress made to date, as al-Shabaab is likely to remain the primary threat to Somalian and East African stability for some time to come.”

The African Union mission -- supported by the United States -- has provided critical space for the Somali government to stand up and establish its legitimacy. The United States recognizes the new government and wants to normalize military-to-military contacts. U.S. Africa Command will work with State Department personnel to assist with the development of a unified Somali security force, Dory said.

Piracy that originated from Somalia has been virtually eliminated, Dory said.

“As recently as 2011, Somali pirates held nearly 600 mariners hostage aboard 28 captured ships, and roamed an area the size of the continental United States looking for their next opportunity,” she said.
“Today, thanks to changes in business practices by the commercial maritime industry, and the presence of international naval forces, piracy is almost nonexistent off the coast of Somalia. The last successful hijacking of a major commercial ship was in 2012.”

Dory said she is encouraged by the way the African Union mission in the country has provided stability. The troops come from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Djibouti and Sierra Leone. They work with Ethiopian forces and the Somali National Army.

The United States and international partners have provided important training and equipment to the Somalis. The proposal for training in fiscal 2014 will stress logistics, personnel management, finance and budgeting and maintenance, Dory said. All this is done in close cooperation with the Somali government.

The antipiracy mission must continue, as the progress made is perishable, she said, adding that Somalia will continue to present problems and opportunities.

“With sustained assistance from the United States and other international partners, Somalia’s national security apparatus will be better positioned to fend off the al-Shabaab insurgency, and gradually transform the fragile state into a success story,” she said.

US, ROK bond celebrated, strengthened during festival

by Airman 1st Class Ashley J. Thum
51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/8/2013 - OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The sights and sounds of two cultures combined for a fun-filled weekend here at the 10th Annual Korean-American Friendship Festival Oct. 5 and 6.

The U.S. and the Republic of Korea have a rich history together, and this multicultural celebration aimed to enhance the relationship between the two countries through the common threads of food, music and games.

The festival kicked off after addresses from leading members of both the local community and 7th Air Force leadership. Volunteers then passed out balloons to audience members who released them in unison after shouting the weekend's theme of "Be a good neighbor, we go together."

Una Park, an English-as-a-second-language teacher in Seoul, attended the festival for the first time with Alex Dowlen, 6th Intelligence Squadron geo-spacial analyst, and was impressed by the way simple things can bridge the gap between cultures.

"It's awesome," Park said, after recounting how the festival gave her American friend, Dowlen, the opportunity to try unique Korean foods he might not otherwise have experienced.

Local and world cuisine wasn't the only attraction for the thousands who flooded the Songtan Entertainment District. The main stage was graced by several performances of traditional dance and martial arts.

As evening approached, the warm weather and brilliant October skies provided the perfect atmosphere for several concerts and even a dance contest set to the tune of Korean pop music, known as K-pop. Although there was a language barrier at times, the smiles and cheers from spectators of all nationalities proved that some things need no translation.

"Live music is always good," said Tech. Sgt. Wesley Walker, 51st Communications Squadron cable antenna systems technician, who helped man one of the many booths featuring food with an all-American feel.

Walker said he enjoyed sharing the experience with members of his host country.

"I think it's a great chance for Americans and Koreans to come together and keep up the camaraderie we have," Walker said.

AMXS, LRS swarm to flight

by Senior Airman Desiree Economides
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

10/8/2013 - YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- As bees work succinctly to collect flower nectar to make honey, Airmen work together during readiness week to provide professional airlift support for Yokota Air Base, Japan.

A simulated deployment order propelled Airmen from the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron and 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron to prepare cargo and aircraft Oct. 7.

"This exercise is testing our abilities to generate and support our operational capabilities," said Capt. Philip Warthen, 374 LRS installation deployment officer. "Regardless of the area of responsibility, every deployment requires personnel and cargo so we are testing our abilities to generate them quickly."

Mobilizing a wing requires the collaboration of many units to gather equipment and personnel, all of which come through LRS. Equipment specifically moved through the cargo deployment section before moving onto its deployed location.

Meanwhile on the other side of the flight line, AMXS is a buzz preparing the fleet for flight.

"Our job is to make sure planes are safe for flight and prepared for the mission," said 1st Lt. Ralph Toms, 374 AMXS.

Aircraft undergo a tip-to-tail inspection where any issues are identified and coordinated by the aircraft manager to be fixed by maintenance back shops. Maintainers also equip the aircraft with armor and munitions for their mission and ensure the aircraft is configured for cargo.

"Once we know when cargo will be delivered we make sure the aircraft is ready for when it arrives," said Senior Master Sgt. Gregory Lilly, 374 AMXS.

When AMXS finally has completed equipping the aircraft, LRS delivers the cargo to the plane and works with the loadmaster to make final preparations. Without the cooperative work of LRS and AMXS, people, cargo and aircraft could be in a sticky situation.

"It's important the cargo is configured and documented correctly," said Tech. Sgt. Todd Bergin, 36th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "Otherwise crews could experience anything from a delay in flight to an assortment of in flight emergencies."

Bergin added, "I have 100 percent faith in our maintenance and logistics teams."

USFK holds 2013 'Good Neighbor Program' award ceremony

by Capt. Tamara Fischer-Carter
51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/8/2013 - OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Command recognized and honored 13 awardees of the Good Neighbor Program during a ceremony and reception held at the Dragon Hill Lodge in Yongsan, central Seoul, Republic of Korea, Sept. 23, 2013.

Senior Airman Clarissa Granger, 51st Maintenance Squadron Accessories Flight training manager, 51st Fighter Wing, Osan Air Base, ROK, won in the Individual (U.S.) category as the Ambassador for the Alliance Good Neighbor.

"This ceremony is a small token of appreciation to our volunteers for their selfless service and volunteer efforts with Korean friends and neighbors who have generously given their time and efforts to support activities that foster good will, mutual respect and better understanding between our two great nations," said General James D. Thurman, United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/USFK commander. "The men and women of USFK salute and hold their 'Good Neighbors' in high esteem."

The GNP award ceremony has recognized individuals and organizations for exceptional contributions resulting in a better quality of life for military members and/or enhancement of Korean-American relations since 2003.

"Senior Airman Granger is a true ambassador for the alliance," said Col. Brook Leonard, 51st FW commander. "It is really special to not only build professional relationships, but to also take personal time and effort to better relationships between the U.S. and the ROK.

"It's an honor to be able to recognize and appreciate efforts to foster goodwill between the U.S. and ROK through outstanding community service," the 51st FW commander continued. "It truly makes a difference and the GNP stands as a cornerstone of successful ROK-U.S. relations."

Volunteers gave their time, talents and energy in an effort to enrich the quality of life in the Korean- American communities which contributed to strengthening the bonds of friendships between nations.

"Collectively, U.S. service members, civilian employees and their families in the ROK are or have already reaped great benefits from the ROK-U.S. alliance and with the implementation of the USFK GNP, the 60-year-old alliance will continue to flourish and grow," Thurman said.

The GNP encompasses a wide array of programs that actively engage the local community, government, media, business, schools and military for better public understanding and appreciation of the USFK mission on the peninsula.

"Ever since she arrived in Korea, she's been active in the community," said Master Sgt. Quincy Tucker, 51st MXS AF chief and Granger's supervisor. "Through her own initiative, she contributed 13 hours to the Language Exchange program; she has learned Korean and taught English through the Study Buddy group at the International Community Center; she's active with the Osan Junior Enlisted Council and is a member of the Pyeongtaek Officials Crazy for English program. She is also involved in the Relay for Life, Easter Egg Hunt, Combined Federal Campaign, Main Gate fund raiser, and Troops for Trash events and programs."

Granger arrived in Korea in November 2012 and has since taken full advantage of her opportunity to assist and immerse herself in the local Korean community any way possible.

"Just jump right in," said Granger. "Immerse yourself in it. Check your emails. Check out public announcements because there is always something out there for you to do."

EC commander reacquaints to new job at old location

by Airman 1st Class Sean M. Crowe
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs

10/4/2013 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Maj. Gen. Frederick H. "Rick" Martin, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, toured Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 2013, to familiarize himself with the 87th Air Base Wing and see how the wing provides installation support to the entire joint base.

The general, who served as the 305th Air Mobility Wing and McGuire Air Force Base commander from October 2005 to October 2007, said he gained insight to plans and programs he hopes will better serve and support the base's host wing and mission partners.

"My goal as the higher command on this base is to empower the host wing commander to do what he sees necessary to accomplish the mission," said Martin. "I saw a lot of interagency coordination and sister services working together during the tour and I would like to continue to see those partnerships arise and continue."

Martin contributed to the plans, programs and footwork that transitioned then McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Dix and Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station into JB MDL.

"It's great seeing the coordination I put forth as the previous commander come into effect here," said Martin. "Joint basing here has allowed us to garner what we've been given - a fresh insight into how other services do business. This insight and communication between services brings innovation and unique opportunities, ultimately, helping us create better efficiencies across services and agencies."

The EC shares ranges with the tenant Army units on base and also works with the Army units to train service members to deliver combat-ready Airmen to combatant commanders.

""The EC's mission is to train, exercise and enable expeditionary combat support forces around the world, and because of this we understand the importance of enabling our sister services," said Martin. "I believe air power is built from the ground up, starting with expeditionary service members who support air mobility wings."

The 87th Security Forces Squadron, which Martin toured on his first day, is an example of joint-service interoperability. Martin saw the new facilities and systems that allowed the squadron to coordinate with its counterparts across the joint base. Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers all have a common defense goal to work toward.

The tour afforded Martin the opportunity to further focus his strategic plans to support JB MDL, its tenant units and local community.

"There is a capability here, not only in the service branch diversity, but in the total-force aspect," said Martin. "The large varieties of active-duty, guard and reserve components that reside here make us a valuable asset for the military to draw upon."

Martin finished his visit with a trip to the 87th Air Base Wing Headquarters where he met some of the wing's service members and revisited an office he reminisced of planning and organizing the joint base structure.

Tyndall achieves 25,000th sortie

by Senior Airman Christopher Reel
325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/8/2013 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., -- Less than two weeks after the F-22's 10-year anniversary of arriving here, Team Tyndall achieved their 25,000th F-22 sortie during a 43rd Fighter Squadron Basic Course training mission Oct. 7.

"Flying 25,000 sorties is much more than just the number of times that the aircraft have flown here at Tyndall," said Master Sgt. Jamie Leach, 43rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit lead production superintendent.
"This number marks the accomplishment of producing many students to move on into combat coded units, which in turn provides the top cover to the men and women on the ground fighting the war."

A sortie begins when an individual aircraft takes off and ends when it lands. The 43rd FS is the only squadron in the world that trains and develops F-22 pilots. The students learn air-to-air combat techniques during their B-course training by primarily flying sorties against the T-38 Talon from the 325th Training Support Squadron and other fighters replicating adversary aircraft.

The 25,000 sortie was an Air Combat Maneuvers training mission for the F-22 B-Course, and incorporated F-22's from the 43rd FS and T-38 Talons. To enable Team Tyndall to train air dominance pilots for the nation's Air Force and to achieve 25,000 sorties, a complete team effort is required.

"The 25,000th sortie is a historic event that represents more than 10 years of producing F-22 combat ready pilots at Tyndall. We couldn't have achieved this landmark, if it wasn't for the years of hard work and the support of all the units on base," said Capt. David Delmage, 43rd FS instructor pilot and flight commander. "This sortie is a reflection of the excellence that is deeply imbedded within Team Tyndall."

The 325th Fighter Wing's mission is to train and project unrivaled combat power for F-22 pilots and maintenance personnel to support the Combat Air Forces. This mission continues during the government shutdown due to the Defense Department's need to keep the pilot training pipeline open.

"It takes a coordinated, concerted effort by the entire 325th FW family," said Mr. Robert Taylor, 325th Maintenance Operations Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Analysis chief. "Every member of the 325th FW has a role in successful execution of the wing mission, which basically is producing sorties to train F-22 student pilots to be combat ready for the Combat Air Forces."

In addition to Tyndall's flying, maintenance and support squadrons, Tyndall's flying mission will soon change with activation of a combat-coded, deployable F-22 squadron.

"We have the added excitement of bringing in a new combat-coded squadron and inheriting the accompanying operational mission," said Col. Max Marosko III, 325th Operations Group commander. "The addition of 24 F-22s will put more than 50 Raptors at Tyndall making it the largest concentration of F-22s in the world."

The new squadron and its associated maintenance and support personnel will bring nearly 1,000 additional Airmen and their families to the local area.

"The addition of a new fighter squadron will bring new people, new perspectives and a grander opportunity for innovation to achieve even more," Captain Delmage said.

MC-12W Liberty exceeds 300,000 flying hours

by Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo
9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

10/8/2013 - BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Beale MC-12W Liberty aircraft surpassed 300,000 combat flying hours at a forward operating base in Afghanistan in September.

The aircraft was developed in response to urgent requests from ground combat commanders for tactical ISR. The result was the fastest military acquisition since the P-51 Mustang in World War II.

The milestone translates to approximately 34 years of flying that the Liberty team achieved in less than four. Project Liberty was also credited with flying 73 percent of all Air Force Intelligence Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) sorties and 24 percent of all Air Force combat sorties in Afghanistan for 2012.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Allison, 489th Reconnaissance Squadron commander, attributes the success of this milestone due in large part to the aircraft's active role in close-air support and ISR operations.

"This aircraft is vital to mission success; it's essentially the eyes and ears of our ground forces," said Allison. "300,000 combat hours makes quite a statement."

The MC-12W is a medium altitude, twin-engine, turboprop aircraft loaded with state-of-the-art optical and sensor equipment. The aircraft's primary mission is to provide ISR support directly to ground forces.

Liberty crews consist of two pilots, a sensor operator and a tactical systems operator who build the tactical picture and shape combat operations.

In 2012 , the MC-12 flew more than 20,016 combat sorties and was directly responsible for the kill or capture of 710 high-value individuals, including senior Taliban leaders, bomb makers and field commanders for the Afghan insurgency. This effort also led to more than 3,000 anti-Afghan forces removed from the battlefield.

"There is insatiable demand for this aircraft. In the spirit of the P-51 Mustang, Project Liberty proves that rapid acquisition, DoD, and industry can accomplish the extraordinary," said Col. Phil Stewart, 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander. Beale Air Force Base is home to the Air Force's MC-12 fleet.

The aircraft was also nominated for aviation's highest award, the Collier Trophy, three of the past four years. The trophy is awarded annually, "...for the greatest achievements in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency and safety of air or space vehicles."

"The MC-12 is saving America's sons and daughters in combat and ultimately protecting America from the threats of terrorism," Stewart said. "Not enough great things can be said about this aircraft; it truly is remarkable."