Monday, August 06, 2018

U.S. Air Force Pilots Help Guard Iceland’s Skies

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Alex Echols, 48th Fighter Wing

KEFLAVIK AIR BASE, Iceland -- Air Force F-15 Eagle pilots are helping to guard the skies over Iceland for the eleventh time since NATO’s Icelandic Air Surveillance mission began.

The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron began flying operations here this week in support of the mission, highlighting America’s commitment to NATO and the strength of its ties with Iceland. The squadron is tasked with supplying airborne surveillance and interception capabilities to meet its host’s peacetime preparedness needs and bolster the security and defense of allied nations.

During their rotation, the squadron will maintain an alert status 24 hours a day, seven days a week as part of their peacetime mission. This means they are ready to respond within minutes to any aircraft that may not properly identify themselves, communicate with air traffic control or have a flight path on file.

Strengthening NATO Partnerships

"This deployment gives us the opportunity to strengthen our NATO partnerships and alliances and train in a different location while continuing to improve our readiness and capability for our alert commitment," said Air Force Lt. Col. Cody Blake, 493rd EFS commander. "Our overall expectation is to maintain a professional presence in everything we do."

To remain vigilant, the squadron performs daily "training scrambles" in which they simulate real-world alert notification and execute planned protocols to ensure a speedy response.

More than 250 airmen assigned to U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and 13 F-15C/D Eagles deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, with additional support from U.S. airmen assigned to Aviano Air Base, Italy. Four of the aircraft are tasked with direct support of the Icelandic Air Surveillance mission, while the additional nine aircraft will conduct training missions, providing pilots invaluable experience operating in unfamiliar airspace.

While providing critical infrastructure and support, Iceland has looked to its NATO allies to provide airborne surveillance and interception capabilities to meet its peacetime preparedness needs since 2008.

"Every year, we experience how qualified the air forces of the NATO nations are and how well trained they are to conduct the mission," said Icelandic Coast Guard Capt. Jon B. Gudnason, Keflavik Air Base commander. "This is what makes NATO such a great partner."

NATO allies deploy aircraft and personnel to support this critical mission three times a year, with the U.S. responsible for at least one rotation annually. So far, nine nations have held the reigns in support of Iceland: Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal and the U.S.

Face of Defense: Change of Pace, Steady Future Enticed Airman to Serve

By Air Force Senior Airman Dustin Mullen, 325th Fighter Wing

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- There are many reasons airmen choose to serve their country. For one airman in the 325th Communications Squadron here, it was all about a change of pace and a steady future.

Air Force Airman 1st Class Randy West, who hails from Greenwich, Ohio, is a radio frequency transmission systems apprentice. His job is to maintain radio equipment that is used to communicate with aircraft and various base organizations.

Before he joined the Air Force, West spent more than three years building lawnmowers. Realizing factory work wasn’t for him, he searched for another path.

“When I was in high school, my dad pushed me to join the Air Force,” West said. “He recognized the opportunities, and saw how they could benefit me.”

Joining the Air Force

Looking back on that advice, he explored his options in the Air Force. He enlisted on Jan. 24, 2017, and attended basic training.

“Basic was about what I expected,” West said. “Show up, and get yelled at for a while and do what you are told to do when you are told to do it.”

During basic training, he received his job selection as a radio frequency transmission systems technician.

“It’s really interesting when you get down into the circuit card level on radios,” West said.

Being an airman has also enabled him to pursue wrestling.

“I have been wrestling since about 5th grade,” he said. “My goal is to try out for the Air Force wrestling team this winter.”

West equates his passion for wrestling to keeping his head in the game and accepting his responsibilities.

“When you wrestle, it’s just you and your opponent out there,” he said. “So when you lose there is no one else to blame but yourself, which is how I look at life.”

Gaining Experience

West’s outlook on life and drive to succeed has helped him leave a good impression on his leaders. He was recently selected to be shadowed by the 325th Fighter Wing commander, allowing him to share his knowledge.

"In Airman West’s short time with us here at Tyndall he has excelled at the radio shop,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Tyler Heninger, West’s supervisor. “While working at a quick pace, he completed his training ahead of schedule, becoming an integral part of our team.

“Since completing training he has actively sought additional responsibilities both in our work center and around our squadron,” Heninger continued. “We look forward to more and better achievements from Airman West in the future."