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10,000 Sorties later: 763rd Airmen flying strong

SOUTHWEST ASIA – Airmen from the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron land at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, April 10, after completing their squadron’s 10,000th expeditionary sortie. Flying the Rivet Joint platform on average around 10 hours per sortie, with an average crew of 25, the squadron has logged more than 2.5 million flight hours collectively over the last 23 years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joel Mease)

SOUTHWEST ASIA – Airmen from the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron land at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, April 10, after completing their squadron’s 10,000th expeditionary sortie. Flying the Rivet Joint platform on average around 10 hours per sortie, with an average crew of 25, the squadron has logged more than 2.5 million flight hours collectively over the last 23 years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joel Mease)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -  Lt. Col. Sean Coveney, 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron commander, congratulates  Airman 1st Class John Griffin, 763rd ERS aircrew, for being part of the crew which completed the squadron’s 10,000th expeditionary sortie, April 10. The commander also gave each crewmember a coin to commemorate the milestone.  The squadron has been continuously deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility for nearly 23 years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joel Mease)

SOUTHWEST ASIA - Lt. Col. Sean Coveney, 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron commander, congratulates Airman 1st Class John Griffin, 763rd ERS aircrew, for being part of the crew which completed the squadron’s 10,000th expeditionary sortie, April 10. The commander also gave each crewmember a coin to commemorate the milestone. The squadron has been continuously deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility for nearly 23 years. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joel Mease)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron completed its 10,000th sortie April 10, all while continuously serving in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility for nearly 23 years.

Using the Rivet Joint platform, the squadron averages around 10 hours a sortie with an average crew of 25 who having flown more than 2.5 million hours collectively.

What stands out to Senior Master Sgt. Barry Thompson the most is how much time the average Airman has given the squadron during those 10,000 sorties.

"As impressive as the technology is behind the jet, it's really the people behind the jet who make this mission work," said Thompson, an airborne mission supervisor. "A lot of people have given a large part of their lives to this mission. As a result of that, I have the utmost respect for what they do."

Thompson is currently in his 15th deployment with the squadron and said he has seen nearly the entire 23-year stretch of the RJs flying in the AOR. His first deployment was as an airborne linguist in 1992. Since then, he said, time spent in the air is a constant.

"We're not a 50 sortie-a-day squadron," Thompson said. "It's an all-day mission, so when we fly, the ground and aircrew strive to make every minute count. So no matter what is required, when push comes to shove, these guys are always ready to perform."

The 763rd ERS director of operations agrees that a lot time has been put into accomplishing the mission, but said it's because it is so important.

"For most of the people in this squadron, this mission is all they know," said Lt. Col. Brian Lebeck, who first deployed with the squadron during Operation Southern Watch in the spring of 2000. "But the job we do gets people home safely. If we can do that for one or two Soldiers on the ground, that makes all the difference in the world."

While milestones like reaching 10,000 miles mark historical significance, Lebeck said he correlates it to a game of football.

"I know there have been a myriad of people before me who have carried that football," Lebeck said. "I've been a part of taking that football a little farther down the field, and in the future someone else will. Whether it will be our 11,000th, 12,000th or 13,000th sortie, we will continue to be here, because that's how valuable this region is."

Thompson, who saw the first 1,000 sortie milestone by the squadron, said it's that constant which really endures.

"The fact these Airmen continue to reenlist shows their dedication not only to the mission but to their country," Thompson said. "It's truly been my pleasure these last 22 years to have the honor to fly with them."

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