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Joint STARS keeps watch as nearly nine-year war ends

A KC-135 Stratotanker refuels a Joint Surveillance Terminal Attack Radar System (JSTARS) over Iraq, Dec. 18, 2011. The JSTARS mission was the last over Iraq during Operation New Dawn. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar, and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tyler Placie)

A KC-135 Stratotanker refuels a Joint Surveillance Terminal Attack Radar System (JSTARS) over Iraq, Dec. 18, 2011. The JSTARS mission was the last over Iraq during Operation New Dawn. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar, and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tyler Placie)

U.S. Air Force and Army personnel receive a crew brief from Colonel Randal Reed, 379th Expeditionary Operations Group Commander, before departing to escort the last ground convoy out of Iraq 18 Dec, 2011. This was the last Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) combat mission over Iraqi air space. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle)

U.S. Air Force and Army personnel receive a crew brief from Colonel Randal Reed, 379th Expeditionary Operations Group Commander, before departing to escort the last ground convoy out of Iraq 18 Dec, 2011. This was the last Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) combat mission over Iraqi air space. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle)

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Jerry Pierson a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) flight engineer from the 7th Expeditionary Air Combat Command Squadron, conducts in-flight operations as he and his fellow aircrew escorts the last ground convoy out of Iraq 18 Dec, 2011. during the last combat  mission over Iraqi air space. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. Pierson is from Sturgis, Ky (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle)

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Jerry Pierson a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) flight engineer from the 7th Expeditionary Air Combat Command Squadron, conducts in-flight operations as he and his fellow aircrew escorts the last ground convoy out of Iraq 18 Dec, 2011. during the last combat mission over Iraqi air space. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. Pierson is from Sturgis, Ky (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle)

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Eric Rideaux, a Joint Terminal Air Controler (JTAC) from the 9th Air Support Squadron, Fort Hood, Texas, conducts operations as a link to JTAC assets on the ground while aboard a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) from the 7th Expeditionary Air Combat Command Squadron. The JSTARS crew is flying the last combat mission over Iraqi airspace escorting the final convoy out of Iraq 18 Dec, 2011. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. Rideaux is from Opelousas, La., and is the last JTAC to operate in Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle)

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Eric Rideaux, a Joint Terminal Air Controler (JTAC) from the 9th Air Support Squadron, Fort Hood, Texas, conducts operations as a link to JTAC assets on the ground while aboard a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) from the 7th Expeditionary Air Combat Command Squadron. The JSTARS crew is flying the last combat mission over Iraqi airspace escorting the final convoy out of Iraq 18 Dec, 2011. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. Rideaux is from Opelousas, La., and is the last JTAC to operate in Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle)

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Paguiligan a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) mission crew commander from the 7th Expeditionary Air Combat Command Squadron, conduct operations as he and his fellow aircrew escorts the last ground convoy out of Iraq 18 Dec, 2011. Paguiligan was on the first JSTARS mission into Iraq. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. Paguiligan is from Jersey City, N.J.(U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle)

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Paguiligan a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) mission crew commander from the 7th Expeditionary Air Combat Command Squadron, conduct operations as he and his fellow aircrew escorts the last ground convoy out of Iraq 18 Dec, 2011. Paguiligan was on the first JSTARS mission into Iraq. The JSTARS provided airborne, stand-off range, surveillance and target acquisition radar and command and control capabilities to ground personnel. Paguiligan is from Jersey City, N.J.(U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle)

12/19/2011 -- 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."