By Airman 1st Class Chip Slack
27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Editor’s note: This feature is the fourth in a continuous series highlighting the phase out and eventual retirement of the eight AC-130H Spectre gunships at Cannon Air Force Base, scheduled to occur in fiscal year 2015.
Seasoned members of the 16th Special Operations Squadron enter the room like unsung heroes. They exude confidence and a collective experience level that has been repetitiously applauded. A humbling sense of sadness fills the room as they sit down to conduct what will be one of their final interviews as sensor operators for the mighty AC-130H Spectre gunship.
For more than 40 years, sensor operators have played a pivotal role in establishing the U.S. Air Force as the world’s most dominant air and space power. Once a job specifically designed and reserved for officers, in April 1975 the enlisted sensor operator soon came to answer the Air Force’s call during a period of overwhelming manning and financial needs, and since then, they have exceeded every and all expectations.
“We know coming into this job that a lot is going to be expected of us,” casually said Tech. Sgt Jonathan Kidd, 16 SOS sensor operator. “One thing that sets us apart from other people is our ability to take that in stride and not think anything else of it.”
The job of the sensor operator is simply defined: being the eyes of the aircraft.
“Our main job in this aircraft is to identify the friendlies, find the targets and work with the rest of the crew to employ the weapons, which are sometimes very close to friendly positions under fire,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Colbert, 16 SOS instructor sensor operator.
For the lives of the thirteen crewmembers that make up the crew, those “eyes” couldn’t be more invaluable. Constantly scanning the surrounding area for danger, being a second set of eyes for every member of the crew, is a responsibility that these crewmembers take very seriously.
“We have the opportunity to look at the whole battlefield in a big picture sense because we’re constantly moving, searching, locating, and maintaining situational awareness of the battlefield,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Peloquin, 16 SOS evaluator sensor operator.
Countless Air Commandos, allied forces and friendlies have gratefully made it home unscathed, whether knowingly or not, because of the tireless awareness of the sensor operators dutifully doing their job. In addition to finding and managing targets, the job of the sensor revolves around neutralizing the threat and protecting individuals who have no hand in the fight. Because of this, and the extreme situations that can be a matter of living another day, most air crews are continuously decorated and honored for their missions.
“All of us have been decorated, given numerous decorations, awards, medals, coins what have you,” MSgt Dana Timpany, 16 SOS evaluator sensor operator, expressed. “But when allied forces, the most capable and skilled members of the armed forces, personally thank you for saving their lives, to me that means more than any medal or decoration,” he continued.
The humility that these Airmen embody is staggering. As a whole, the sensor operators are
completely attached and dedicated to their missions, often overcome with a sense of pride, nerves and accomplishment.
“We participate in the mission as it develops and endure the challenges of war that go with each and every mission,” said Peloquin. “Seeing the direct action and your individual impact only intensifies the notion of knowing that the job was done and a difference was made.”
As their piece of the legacy that accompanies the AC-130H comes to a close, their heritage will live on in the constant appreciation from their fellow Airmen. The legacy is so distinguished and remarkable, that the sensor operators that have been privileged to work with the infamous aircraft aren’t quite ready for this chapter of their lives to be finalized.