Eyes in the sky: Team JSTARS stays focused on mission, keeps warfighter support on target

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Air Force Base Public Affairs

U.S. adversaries are always at work, plotting our forces’ demise, but the 461st and 116th Air Control Wings are working together as an integrated force that always has the warfighter’s back around the clock.

The two units jointly are referred to as Team JSTARS, which stands for Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System.

“Team JSTARS’ mission is to provide airborne battle management to combatant commanders globally,” said Col. Amy Holbeck, 116th ACW commander. “The Georgia Air National Guard state mission is to be “Always Ready, Always There.”  The state mission is to provide the governor of Georgia a ready force of guardsmen for any domestic crisis.”

Col. Ed Goebel, 461st ACW commander, said Team JSTARS provides geographic combatant commanders around the world with on-call battle management, command and control, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, more commonly referred to as C2ISR.

“We are primarily focused on integration with our sister services to include incorporating U.S. Army personnel on the flying crews in support of ground forces engaged against our adversaries,” he said. “As a Total Force integration organization, we are comprised of both active duty and Air National Guard forces involved in all facets of the JSTARS mission.”

The active duty men and women of the 461st ACW provide the Air Force’s only active-duty JSTARS capability to the Department of Defense, Goebel said.

“In addition, we are home to the 53rd Air Traffic Control Squadron, the Air Force’s only active-duty Deployable Air Traffic Control and Landing Systems squadron,” he said.  “In addition to our global engagement as a JSTARS enterprise, these airmen deploy into austere locations around the world and establish basic airfield operations to support the various flying missions required of our Air Force.”

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Team JSTARS’ war-fighting mission endures, Goebel said.

“Col. Holbeck and I have worked closely to take care of all of our active and guard members and their families, while preserving critical combat capability,” he said. “We have tailored our operations to ensure we are able to provide capabilities the nation demands, train for future missions, and for those who have seen the president’s announcement - we are integrated into ongoing U.S. counter narcotics efforts.”

Holbeck said Team JSTARS is as busy as it has ever been, taking necessary precautions along the way.

“Due to our mission being mission essential, we are abiding by all Centers for Disease Control guidelines and exhaustively emphasizing washing hands and don’t come to work if you’re sick,” she said.  “We also sanitize each aircraft after each flight. We have staggered shifts to reduce contact, and a large number of our administrative and support functions are being accomplished via telework.  All meetings are held virtually.”

About 20 percent of those employed by 116th ACW are Drill Status Guardsmen, meaning those members don’t work on the base during the week but instead work one weekend a month and up to two weeks a year on base for annual training, a part of the mission that Holbeck said is crucial to maintain.

“Without continuing the training mission, we would not be able to continue to serve the mission in the field for very long,” she said. “To be effective and provide the most capable Airmen downrange, we must continue to train them to proficiency here for a rotation downrange.  In addition, with JSTARS being here at Robins as the only location in the world, the training schoolhouse is also located here at Robins. That “pipeline” of students must continue. We also support real-world missions in addition to training missions from Robins, so those must continue.”

Holbeck said in addition to the support provided from its home station, Team JSTARS is working steadily around the world, supporting warfighters in forward operating locations.

“Team JSTARS currently supports three FOLs,” she said. “Each of these missions is critical for supporting national strategic objectives. The training and real-world missions here at Robins is crucial to ensuring we can continue to provide the same level of effort to each FOL by allowing us to rotate forces as needed.”

Like other units at Robins, the team has had its challenges, but it has overcome the obstacles and kept the mission flying.

“Like many other military and civilian organizations, we’ve had to adapt to distance, technology and levels of risk,” Goebel said. “What has kept our mission thriving throughout this pandemic is empowering our Airmen to help us generate ideas and techniques necessary to comply with CDC guidelines and provide innovative ways to ensure the mission can still be accomplished. We improvise, we adapt, and we overcome, thanks to the men and women in these two wings.”

Both commanders praised Team JSTARS for its continued dedication to the mission.

“So proud to be part of and serve in an organization that doesn’t run in the face of fear but instead runs to help,” Holbeck said. “Our medical teams are facing COVID-19 head-on daily in hospitals. All of our folks supporting COVID-19 are volunteers, and I’m proud of each one of them. This is what a Guardsmen is and does, a citizen Airman taking care of citizens. Again, I’m proud of all of our folks. The ones continuing our federal mission and continuing training in the face of this pandemic, all are true heroes and deserve the upmost respect.”

Goebel said Team JSTARS, along with the many other units on base, are proving that the mission thrives when people work together to make it happen.

“I think it’s important to remember there are a lot of different missions on Robins from Air Logistics Complex employees building combat power, the 78th Air Base Wing providing support and infrastructure to all the agencies on base, a member of the active duty or Georgia Air National Guard JSTARS mission fixing and flying airplanes, and a number of other partners working here performing critical functions,” he said.

“Against this pandemic, it’s been good to see collaboration against a common adversary and recognition that no one mission is more important than any other, we all have to work together to ensure Robins AFB can continue to support, build, and employ combat power for our nation while we protect our most precious commodity - America’s sons, daughters and families,” Goebel said.