For almost nine years, Joint STARS crews deployed from Robins Air Force Base have provided real-time ground target detection, identification and tracking in Iraq. Thousands of U.S. troops and convoys have survived because of the unblinking radar onboard the E-8C.
And one last time on Sunday, a 20-member crew from the 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron -- the Robins unit's deployed designator -- provided overflight protection as the final U.S. military convoy departed.
"It's a good feeling to watch those last convoys roll out. It's an historic occasion," Lt. Col. Curtis Bass, 7th EACCS commander is quoted in a U.S. Forces Central Command news release.
"We were able to cover and support from the air the last boots on the ground going across the border," Bass said.
More than 20 aircrew and mission crew members made the nearly 12-hour flight. They were deployed from the 116th and 461st Air Control Wings and the Army's 138th Military Intelligence Company, all stationed at Robins. The 116th is the Georgia Air National Guard element of Joint STARS. The 461st is the active duty contingent.
They were joined by Technical Sgt. Eric Rideaux, a joint terminal attack controller, the last U.S. Air Force JTAC in Iraq. He accompanied the Joint STARS crew to provide coordination for friendly forces on the ground.
"It's an honor to be the last JTAC in country," Rideaux is quoted in the Central Command report. "I'm honestly happy to see that it's finally come to an end."
He said he valued the opportunity to fly with the Joint STARS teams.
"It's not something many JTACs can say they had the opportunity to do," he said. "The experience was an eye opener. It was a great learning experience."
Lt. Col. Joe Paguiligan, the mission crew commander on the flight, asked to be onboard the final mission because he was part of one of the first flights over Iraq.
"I wanted to be part of JSTARS history," he said. "We were there the first night to watch our brethren on the ground go into harm's way and now it would be a complete circle to watch them walk out."
The 7th EACCS logged more than 50,000 hours over Iraq.
"We've been here since the beginning," Bass pointed out. "We flew the first night into Iraq; we flew on the last night out; and we're not going anywhere. We'll continue to be prepared for anything."