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55th Wing fulfills mission tasks from borrowed airfield

Aircrew members retrieve gear from their bus before boarding an RC-135V/W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft for a training mission at Lincoln Air Park in Lincoln, Neb., Sept. 29. The 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., temporarily moved base aircraft and support units to the air park while the base's runway is under repair. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shad Eidson)

Aircrew members retrieve gear from their bus before boarding an RC-135V/W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft for a training mission at Lincoln Air Park in Lincoln, Neb., Sept. 29. The 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., temporarily moved base aircraft and support units to the air park while the base's runway is under repair. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shad Eidson)

LINCOLN AIR PARK, Neb. (AFPN) -- Every day nearly 450 Airmen from the 55th Wing take the bus to work -- making an hour-long ride that takes them 50 miles away from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

The wing moved airfield operations and support agencies to the Lincoln Air Park ramp in May to continue flying missions remotely while scheduled repairs would shut down the base runway.

"It adds a couple hours to our duty day but this is indispensable," said Lt. Col. Michael Swigert, aircraft commander and instructor with the 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron. "Otherwise, we would have to be flying out of some place farther away like Eielson and we would have to move the whole operation there."

Working the mission from a remote location is almost second nature to the Airmen in the 55th Wing. The wing deployed to the Persian Gulf and began continuous reconnaissance to support Operation Desert Shield. The wing continues to provide reconnaissance to the warfighter through back-to-back deployments and "we've never come home," said Col. Don Kelly, 55th Operations Group deputy commander. "I don't think there are many units in DOD that can say that."

At any given time, there are roughly 500 to 850 Offutt Airmen deployed around the world, according to 1st Lt. Brian Miller, base spokesperson.

"Our operational tempo hasn't subsided," Colonel Kelly said. "It has been fairly seamless because of all the support from the Nebraska Air National Guard at Lincoln."

Everything done from a deployed location is more difficult by its very nature, the colonel said. He attributes superb maintenance and great support from families for the wing's success in meeting its flying, training and deployment commitments.

"Our troops make a lot of sacrifices to get the mission done. They do it every day, voluntarily, and they do it without having to be asked," Colonel Kelly said. "Obviously they couldn't do it, and as well as they do, if they weren't being supported at home."

The wing's success story also comes from the reliable support found in the community including the Nebraska Air National Guard's 155th Air Refueling Wing and the Lincoln Airport Authority that allow use of the ramp. The location proved its usefulness previously when major runway repairs were last done on base during the mid-1990s.

"If we are not out there doing our job, those units that depend on the information we provide wouldn't be even half as effective," Colonel Kelly said.

The resilience of the wing's Airmen to press on is evident in all their endeavors, Lieutenant Miller said. There is no hangar available at the ramp but maintenance Airmen did a full engine change on an E4B within the first few days there.

"The Airmen who step on the aircraft and do operational missions know they are directly supporting the warfighter," Lieutenant Miller said. "These guys are the eyes and ears before the battle. They are keeping the guys on the ground smart and safe."
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