KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
The 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron operating out of Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan is the only unit in the U.S. Air Force that operates the E-11A with the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node payload.
Keeping the pilot safe while supporting missions in the area of responsibility is Tech. Sgt. Andrew Blackmon, 430th EECS aircrew flight equipment technician.
“Here at KAF, I provide the survival equipment support for the E-11 BACN,” said Blackmon, who is deployed out of the 58th Operational Support Squadron at Kirtland. “I provide the survival components; air crew body armor, combat survivor evader locator, radios and any other type of support the pilots for their day-to-day missions.”
Upon arrival to work, Blackmon programs all the survival radios and then goes out to the aircraft and checks the survival equipment to ensure that everything is ready to go.
”Once I am done inspecting the equipment, I go back and provide any type of support to the pilots they may need before they depart for their mission,” said Blackmon.
Lt Col. Nicholas Delcour, 430th EECS commander, said that Blackmon is a vital part of mission success for the squadron.
“Every mission we fly is a combat mission, and his expertise as the AFE specialist is critical because our survival radios, survival equipment that we carry on every mission, he inspects and provide for us,” said Delcour. “He is also an administrator and a jack of all trades for us. Without him we would be down significantly: safety management, personnel management, and vehicle management. AFE is just his job, but he does so much more for us.”
A Dallas, Texas, native, Blackmon has been in the U.S. Air force for more than 12 years, and continues to serve his country proudly.
“I originally joined the Air Force for education and tradition,” said Blackmon. “Both of my parents served in the Air Force, so I wanted to follow their footsteps and do the same thing.”
No stranger to the deployed life, Blackmon is on his fourth deployment away from home.
“I was excited about this deployment,” said Blackmon. “It’s been almost nine years since my last deployment, so I felt I was overdue for one.”
The mission of the 430th EECS and the E-11A is to serve as a BACN, which is a communications system that provides radio connectivity across the battlespace for airborne and surface operators.
“We are a data relay platform, functioning like a low earth satellite,” said Delcour. “We fly over the battle space and transform and relay communications from the ground to any platform. Anyone who is actually out there fighting the war, we give them better communication.”
In short, the BACN provides an aerial command and control capability for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel—a key aspect of the wing’s mission to deliver decisive airpower. In the last two weeks of November, for example, the E-11 ensured coalition forces maintained momentum and flexibility in the strikes targeting Taliban revenue streams.
Blackmon said he feel that his job is important because if something happened to the aircraft and it went down, the pilots would use the equipment to survive overnight or evade from the enemy until help arrives.
“Part of preparing the aircraft for flight is making sure they’re equipped with supplies for any situation,” said Blackmon. “I am responsible for ensuring that all flight and safety equipment is in perfect working order. I ensure that the pilots can take off on a mission with the confidence that if something was to happen to that aircraft, they can still survive.”