Alert mission protects U.S. airspace, interests
By SOF Editor on Tue, 12/08/2009 - 11:13am
Shaw Air Force Base Airmen supporting the Operation Noble Eagle alert mission provide quick-reaction support to protect U.S. airspace and significant events like presidential movements and space shuttle launches. "We have to be ready if the alarm goes off at 2:30 in the morning," said Master Sgt. William Martin, the alert NCO in charge. "I want everything to be ingrained in (the Airmen) so they can get the mission done." Recently, the alert Airmen were tested by Exercise Fertile Keynote. The exercise was conducted by officials from the 20th Fighter Wing plans and inspections to prepare for an upcoming inspection by higher headquarters. According to Sergeant Martin, the F-16 Fighting Falcons on alert are airborne within 7 minutes and 15 seconds of the alarm sounding, on average. "Down here (the pilots) train to intercept aircraft," said Airman 1st Class Andrew Norton, an alert maintainer. "They'll launch a Civil Air Patrol aircraft from another base, and our pilots track him on radar to escort him out of our airspace." From security forces, to maintenance, to operations, many units on Shaw AFB's contribute Airmen, equipment and aircraft to the alert facility. "Security forces protect alert assets 24/7," Sergeant Martin said. "They block off roads coming in and out of the alert area until the command post says it's OK to let people through." Maintainers at Shaw AFB's alert facility discuss ways to improve their skills immediately after launching aircraft. "We'll gather around and let each other know what we could improve on," said Staff Sgt. James Smeltzer, an alert maintainer. "We discuss things like staying clear while flight controls are being tested." This type of feedback is something alert Airmen take pride in. "We have the best communication between maintenance and operations in this entire wing," said Sergeant Martin.