606th ACS explains "Why we do what we do"

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Gary Dawson
  • 606th Air Control Squadron Director of Operations
At approximately 7:00 a.m. I was walking out of the shower tent when I felt a tremendous shockwave that nearly knocked me over. The thunderous boom came next, but I was already hitting the dirt, which was actually gravel.

My first thought was that were just hit by the "golden BB" and I looked around for the ominous cloud of smoke rising, expecting to hear the worst - the cries from one of my Airmen. Seeing no smoke and not hearing anyone screaming, I remembered that I was now completely unprotected, lying out in the open and my instincts kicked in. I jumped to my feet and scrambled behind the nearest force protection barrier.

As I collected my thoughts, I realized that we were OK and started running the checklist in my mind. It turned out, the forward-operating base was attacked by a suicide bomber. Two hundred pounds of explosives two miles away had nearly knocked me down. Fourteen people died in that instant - it could have been worse.

As we assessed the situation and took stock of ourselves, I realized how our training back home shaped my instincts. We haven't been home long, but already we're preparing to go back to the field for more combat readiness training - air control squadron style.

We deploy as a self-contained unit ready to set up bare-base command and control operations anytime, anywhere. We are responsible for providing the senior air commander with a deployable theater battle management command and control capability to execute air operations. These big words simply mean we're responsible to locate, identify and control aircraft in support of air and ground operations. We accomplish this by using ground-based radars, radios and data links.

During this last deployment, we built the newest Air Force Central Command and Control site two weeks ahead of schedule, made long-haul command and control a reality, controlled more than 13,000 sorties and aided in the destruction of more than 400 enemy targets. It also means that when we go into a new theater we have to set up our own sites, maintain both the sites and our troops, and provide our own protection. To do this, we're staffed with 22 different specialties, making the unit one of the most diverse and complex organizations in the Air Force. On top of our normal technical training, we also have to routinely train in field conditions. That includes going to the field, setting up a site, maintaining equipment, defending the site and providing the logistical support for the Airmen in addition to controlling an air war. It consists of three weeks of repelling all kinds of attacks, day and night, while conducting our primary mission.

We'll do this about three more times before we deploy again sometime next year. This very training helped me through multiple real-world attacks down range. In an instant, all this training suddenly became very personal, and I'll never look at it the same way again.

If you happen to see a bunch of five-ton vehicles rumbling down the autobahn with about 50 cold, wet and geared-up troops in the back, you're not being invaded. It's the 606 Air Control Squadron doing what we do best - and loving every minute of it.