Total force Airmen complete Icelandic Air Surveillance mission

Air Force photograph by MSgt. Kevin Nichols

A U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft prepares to land at Keflavik International Airport, Iceland, April 28, 2016. The U.S. Air Force’s forward presence in Europe allows the U.S. to work with allies to ensure regional security in the region.

It seems like April flew by… much like the U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft did throughout the skies of Iceland.

But the transition to May and their departure from the island only ensures the continuity of the U.S.’s commitment to bringing peace and stability to the European theater.

Four F-15C Eagles assigned to the 131st Fighter Squadron, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass., completed their deployment in Iceland April 30, 2016 in support of Icelandic Air Surveillance and Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Approximately 200 airmen from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes ANG Base, and 144th FW, Fresno ANG Base, Calif., conducted the mission over, under and through the Icelandic skies since April 3, 2016, while maintaining a forward presence in Europe.

This deployment represented the first time IAS occurred under the theater security package mission, using rotational forces of stateside total force Airmen and aircraft to augment existing Air Force capabilities in Europe. Active-duty support Airmen from Spangdahlem and Ramstein Air Bases in Germany and other locations took on logistics and various ground operations.

“We have a wide variety of personnel and assets working for the NATO Air Surveillance operation,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Beckel, 131st FS commander and detachment commander for the Icelandic mission. “Back home, our mission is also an alert mission, and we accomplish that from our home base and deploy anywhere around the world.”

A U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft taxis from the flightline at Keflavik International Airport, April 28, 2016 as equipment sits ready to be loaded. The equipment and approximately 200 Airmen assigned to the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass., completed the Icelandic Air Surveillance mission and will travel to Estonia to conduct training and partnership operations there.

Beckel cited the partnership with the Icelandic Coast Guard as a key component to accomplishing the mission, specifically with their search-and-rescue mission in such a harsh environment.  Their service’s helicopters would also pick up any pilots who may have ejected from their jets in a potential emergency, he added.  

Now known as Keflavik International Airport, the base’s infrastructure still remains operational. IAS has been a part of a bilateral joint declaration agreement signed in 2008 after permanently stationed U.S. Air Force airmen left the former air base.

“This gave us a great opportunity to test and use our capability while training with the U.S. forces,” said Icelandic Coast Guard Commander Senior Grade Jon B. Gudnason, commander of the reinstituted Keflavik Air Base during the air surveillance operation. “It also shows Iceland the commitment of NATO to defend Iceland during peacetime and war.”

Throughout April, units conducted training alongside NATO allies and partners demonstrating the U.S. commitment to a Europe that is whole, free, at peace, secure and prosperous, while adding deterrence against further aggression.

“It offers reassurance to our partners in NATO and deterrence to those who would not be our friends,” stated Robert Barber, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Iceland. “The Icelanders are very appreciative that we have these rotating missions throughout the year, and it’s an important demonstration of the NATO alliance.”

The F-15s and U.S. airmen will remain in theater through September 2016. During their six months in theater, the TSP will also forward-deploy to other NATO and partner nations including Bulgaria, Estonia and Romania.

Four F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft assigned to the 131st Fighter Squadron, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Mass., wait to depart Keflavik International Airport April 30, 2016. The squadron and approximately 200 Airmen finished the Icelandic Air Surveillance mission and traveled to Estonia continuing to bring peace and stability to the European theater during their 6-month deployment overseas.