Joint STARS keeps watch as nearly nine-year war ends

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sara Csurilla
  • U.S. Forces Central Command Combat Correspondent
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- "That's incredible," 1st Lt. Carter Matherly, an air weapons officer from the 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron, said to himself as fellow aircrew members gathered around his screen to watch live video feed of the last U.S. combat forces convoy roll out of Iraq and the gates close behind it.

The aircrew were onboard the last E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or Joint STARS, sortie to fly over Iraqi airspace. Their mission was to provide surveillance and acquisition radar command and control capabilities to ground forces on the last convoy.

"It's a good feeling to watch those last convoys roll out, it's a historic occasion," said Lt. Col. Curtis Bass, 7th EACCS commander and native of Meridian, Miss. "We were able to cover and support from the air, the last boots on the ground going across the border, bringing a close to a nearly nine-year war in Iraq."

The 11-and-a-half-hour flight departed well into the night with more than 20 aircrew members from the 7th EACCS, comprised of Airmen and Soldiers deployed from the 116th Air Control Wing, 461st Air Control Wing and the 138th Military Intelligence Company all out of Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and one Airman from Fort Hood, Texas, uncommon to a Joint STARS' aircrew.

Tech. Sgt. Eric Rideaux, a joint terminal attack controller and a native of Appaloosa, La., was on the Joint STARS to provide detailed coordination in close proximity to friendly forces. Rideaux was not only part of this historic crew, he was also the last U.S. Air Force JTAC in Iraq.

"It's an honor to be the last JTAC in country. There are a lot of guys that did a lot of hard work out there," said Rideaux, who has spent his fair share of time in Iraq as well, carrying out countless missions. "I'm honestly happy to see that it's finally come to an end; it's been a long time. I'm also glad that I had the opportunity to fly with the JSTARS because it's not something many JTACs can say that they had that opportunity to do. The experience was an eye opener to some things I didn't realize, as far as their perspective; it was a great learning experience."

For other crew members, they jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the crew.
Lt. Col. Joe Paguiligan, a mission crew commander with the 7th EACCS and native of Jersey City, N.J., asked to be part of the last flight because he was part of the crew that was on one of the first flights into Iraq when Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

"I asked to be on this flight because I wanted to be part of JSTARS history," said Paguiligan. "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 has more than 50,000 flying hours over Iraq and although this mission marked the last, the proud members of the 7th EACCS are prepared to keep executing their mission no matter where they are.

"We've been here since the beginning," said Bass. "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."