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Scorpions strike downrange

Staff Sgt. Jason Bailey, 603rd Air Control Squadron heating, ventilation and air conditioning journeyman, moves supplies at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan. (Courtesy photo)

Staff Sgt. Jason Bailey, 603rd Air Control Squadron heating, ventilation and air conditioning journeyman, moves supplies at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan. (Courtesy photo)

Aviano Air Base, Italy -- After more than eight months of training, 86 "Scorpion" members of the 603rd Air Control Squadron deployed Jan. 9 to Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan.

The deployed group, comprised of various career fields in addition to radar controllers, with everything from civil engineering to vehicle maintenance and intelligence, are there to provide radar support for Afghanistan skies.

"We provide command and control for all aircraft, suppressing the terrorist threat by making sure folks on the ground have the close air support needed to eliminate the terrorist insurgency in Afghanistan," said Capt. Anton Peterson, 73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron director of operations. "We give air support that is always available, whenever and wherever it's needed, which provides the flexibility to prosecute targets at will. Terrorists can't run or hide from that."

The Scorpions are considered force enablers - meaning they are always in the deployment bucket.

To prepare for its mission in Kandahar, the 603rd ACS conducted several training situations designed to simulate a real deployment.

"For our deployment preparation, we had Scorpion Strike in October, which was set up and tailored to look as close to a real deployment as possible," said Lt. Col. Troy Jackson, 603rd ACS commander.

The squadron also held an eight day training in June, intended to simulate deployed field conditions.

With 24 different career fields and 21 work centers, Colonel Jackson said training together is essential to successful deployments. "It's easier, with that many different career fields, to train together because there's a lot of pull with getting everyone trained and ready to go downrange."

As one of only two air control squadrons in the U.S. Air Forces in Europe command, field training prepares the Scorpions for deployments that can last anywhere from six to eight months.

Although the group is living and working in what some may call harsh conditions, Senior Master Sgt. Chris Lopez, 73rd EACS operations superintendent, said the Scorpions are doing their job with a smile.

"Nobody likes being away from our family and friends at Aviano, but when it comes to doing our job, the Scorpions are doing what we do best - living in austere conditions, controlling all aircraft flying over Afghanistan, putting bombs on the bad guys and providing air cover for our Army brothers and sisters - and we do this with such a positive attitude," he said. "I'm very proud of my Scorpions - they are an awesome bunch of folks."

Sergeant Lopez, who was with the 603rd ACS during its last deployment to Kandahar from May 2005 to January 2006, said that there have been major improvements to the base.

"I was very impressed with the upgrades made [to the base]," he said. "The units that deployed after the Scorpions have done an exceptional job maintaining and improving the quality of life for the 73rd EACS."

While providing air control is a major part of the Scorpion's deployed work, it is only one part of their total mission.

"Among other missions, the 73rd EACS expertly coordinates air support for our coalition forces on the ground as they push deeper into rural Afghanistan, engaging remnants of the Taliban," said 1st Lt. Alena Taylor, 73rd EACS intelligence officer. "Securing these locations is imperative to the success of reconstruction projects throughout the country and waging the next phase of the conflict - winning hearts and minds."