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612th SPTS brings 24/7 ops to SOUTHCOM AOR

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. William Ledbetter
  • 612th Support Squadron
Located in the bright and sunny Sonoran desert of Southern Arizona at Davis-Monthan AFB, the 612th Support Squadron carries out its mission twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The squadron's primary mission is to support the United States Southern Command's ongoing task of Countering Transnational Organized Crime in Central and South America.

The 612th SPTS dates back to January 29, 1998, when the 612th Air Support and Operations Squadron, 24th Wing at Howard AFB Panama, realigned under 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern).

Once assigned to 12th AF (AFSOUTH), the 612th ASOS realigned again, this time under the 612th Theater Operations Group. On July 26, 2002, the 612th Support Squadron stood up with two flights, fulfilling distinct support roles in support of AFSOUTH and U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM): Forward Operating Location (FOL) Flight and Operational Weather Flight (OWF).

The FOL Flight has the responsibility to provide logistical support, airfield ops, facilities, transportation, supply, housing and subsistence, to five FOLs in USSOUTHCOM.

Master Sgt. Graciela Hight, flight non-commissioned officer-in-charge, describes her biggest challenge as information coordination.

"Due to the large geographical area of USSOUTHCOM, communication and coordination with the FOLs is a large obstacle," she said.

Recent efforts however have resulted in numerous upgrades at FOL Curacao to include runway repairs, rubber removal, USAF Fire Department facility improvements and septic and bathroom systems for deployed personnel.

The second flight, the Operational Weather Flight, operates twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and is responsible for continuously analyzing and interpreting environmental weather data for Department of Defense assets operating inside of the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility (AOR). They also provide weather coordination with the 612th Air and Space Operations Center, co-located on Davis Monthan, AFB, and the Puerto Rico Air and Army National Guard.

The OWF produces over 6,000 weather forecast products per month, including but not limited to Flight Weather Mission Execution Forecasts, Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts and Graphical Depictions characterizing daily weather and flight hazards. Aside from the aviation aspect, the OWF also issues weather watches, warnings and advisories protecting personnel and assets across the 15.6 million Square mile USSOUTHCOM AOR.

The OWF stands ready for specialized mission support taskings at all times, regularly supporting the PANAMAX exercise and Beyond the Horizons counter-drug ground based radar deployments allowing joint operations with multiple countries from Central and South America building international relationships and cooperation.

When the 2010 Haiti earthquake struck the OWF was ready and supported operation Unified Response with timely and accurate weather planning, aviation support and weather advisories to 18 U.S. organizations, 16 international countries, and 142 aircraft that flew thousands of sorties.

Another aspect of the 612th SPTS' mission for USSOUTHCOM operations is the skilled management of a multi-million dollar counter drug budget and other funds by Ms. Melissa Strosky at the 612th SPTS. These funds support infrastructure projects and acquisition of material for the 429th Expeditionary Operations Squadron on the islands of Curacao and Aruba.

Strosky says that her biggest challenge is "being geographically separated" from the forward deployed units.

"I cannot see the operations and FOLs themselves so, I have to rely on verbal communication over the phone for an understanding of my customer's needs and ask many questions in order to understand mission requirements and justification of funding," said Strosky. "In today's budgetary situation, it's imperative that we coordinate requirements to identify appropriate funding for mission success."

In order to fulfill the mission, there are pressing real world issues that the Airmen of the 612th SPTS face. The two largest are budgetary and manning shortfalls.

Lt. Col. Ryan Hollman, 612th SPTS commander, describes these challenges and how the Squadron is adapting.

"As with everyone right now, we are mitigating the financial constraint impact by only traveling TDY when it is mission essential," said Hollman. "We are also only purchasing what we need to continue to support the mission. If travel or an item isn't absolutely needed right now, then we are going to delay or bypass that until the financial uncertainty improves."

In the short term, the squadron has obtained some manning assistance days to bring in more help from its local 162nd Air National Guard partners.

"Recently we have been able to provide some relief to our 24/7/365 weather operations and put our personnel back on 8-hour shifts from the previous 12-hour shifts that they had been on for three years," said Hollman. "This will allow Airmen more time with their families for improved morale and reduced on-duty fatigue for better focus on the mission resulting in better support for our customers downrange."

Outside of the Squadron's mission focus, both flights have come together to take on numerous responsibilities for the Tucson community.

The 612th SPTS' regularly takes part in the Adopt-A-Highway program. Ensuring three miles of Old Spanish Highway remains a pristine piece of the Sonoran landscape every quarter. Making a direct impact to the local community, and recognizing the human needs in Tucson, 612th SPTS members selflessly donate their time to three Community Food Bank events ensuring sixty-one thousand pounds of food are distributed for two and a half thousand families.

Though dual-missioned in nature, the drive and determination for mission success is the key element uniting leadership and both flights in the 612th SPTS. Last year alone their unrelenting focus enabled sixteen thousand hours of counter drug missions flown resulting in three hundred and forty-eight arrests and over three billion dollars in illegal drug seizures.

"The 612th SPTS takes pride in protecting and ensuring America's safety by playing an active role in denying Transnational Crime Organizations access to the United States," said Hollman.

Finally, the 612th SPTS garnered the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce E.D Jewett Award for 2012, which recognizes the Outstanding Squadron on Davis-Monthan AFB for the past year.