The inspection outbriefing marked the end of a grueling Operational Readiness Inspection Phase Two that began last Wednesday. It tested the local contingent’s ability to launch aircraft and meet all taskings while subjected to a broad range of simulated attacks and difficulties. The IG uses a five-tiered rating system beginning with “outstanding” then proceeding to “excellent, satisfactory, marginal and unsatisfactory.”
The unit posted an “excellent” rating in a phase-one ORI two years ago that measured the ability to process people, cargo and deploy. Much of the phase two test was conducted at an isolated “Base X” area of the Robins installation with heavy emphasis on support elements as well as flight operations and aircraft maintenance.
The results mark the first ORI for the new active associate structure. Joint STARS active duty members now fall under the 461st Air Control Wing while Georgia Air National Guardsmen serve under the 116th Air Control Wing. The 2010 ORI occurred when the two elements were “blended” under the 116th ACW banner.
Since the early 1990s, Joint STARS has become the nation’s premier airborne ground surveillance and command and control element. Aircraft and airmen from the Robins unit are deployed continuously in the war on terror and to meet U.S. commitments in other contingencies around the world.
Brig. Gen. Bill Welsh, 116th commander, said Tuesday’s results were preceded by almost a year of preparation and training.
“It was a huge team effort,” he said by telephone. “All pulled together, gelled, then peaked to score this excellent grade.”
Col. Henry Cyr, 461st vice commander, had special praise for the support teams.
“The areas that we do routinely – flying and maintaining aircraft – were a highlight,” Cyr noted. “But the support group elements don’t get to do their ORI-type taskings as frequently. Yet they were amazing in their ability to get on a task that they only get to practice part time. Then to bring it all together for an ‘excellent’ was truly amazing.”
Preparing for the ACC test has been challenging, particularly with so many aircraft and airmen deployed to real-world locations. Four operational readiness exercises or OREs were included in the year-long buildup.
“That’s hard to do when you have a ten-year, steady-state deployment commitment,” Cyr pointed out. “But three or four times we had (additional) pop-up threats we had to respond to. That further reinforced how well our people have done. They stayed on target throughout this whole process to get to this state.”
The IG team noted the “great effort and attitude,” Welsh and Cyr reported. The inspectors also said they could not distinguish among Guard or active duty airmen. Altogether, 18 teams were rated superior performers as were 37 individuals.
“It was clear to them that we had an integrated effort across the board,” Cyr said. “They couldn’t tell who was who and that’s how we like it.”
Welsh said the unit’s performance in real-world contingencies along with the inspection results clearly underscore the credibility of the airborne ground surveillance weapon system.
“Joint STARS is a capability the country can’t do without,” he stressed.