End of an Era: JSTARS flies last sortie out of CENTCOM

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An E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System returns at sunset from a combat mission Sept. 12, 2016, at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The 18-year long deployment of the E-8C JSTARS aircraft to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility came to an end Oct. 1, 2019. (Air Force photograph by Tech. Sgt. Carlos J. Treviño)

An 18-year long deployment of the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, and the second longest deployment in U.S. Air Force history, came to an end Oct. 1, 2019.

Just before sunrise, Col. Konata Crumbly, 116th Air Control Wing commander and Joint STARS aircraft commander, pulled back the flight controls and lifted the aircraft from the runway on the last Joint STARS sortie leaving Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, marking the end of an era.

“Looking out the window of the flight deck and seeing Al Udeid drifting into the distance for the last time after so many years was a momentous occasion,” said Crumbly. “It is difficult to measure the kind of success our Team JSTARS Airmen and Soldiers achieved over the last 18 years; it can only be measured in lives not lost.”

Joint STARS has been continually deployed to the CENTCOM area of responsibility every day since November 2001.  Since then they have flown 10,938 sorties, equaling 114,426.6 combat flying hours in support of nearly every CENTCOM operation including Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Freedom Sentinel and Inherent Resolve.

“Team JSTARS’ flawless deployment of the Joint STARS weapon system over nearly two decades is a textbook example of total force integration and joint force execution done properly,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas Grabowski, Georgia Air National Guard commander. “They have set the gold standard in TFI and will continue to lead the way as they restructure to the new Advanced Battle Management System supporting the Air Force we need.”

Joint STARS aircraft fly over assigned areas of responsibilities and provide battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance so that theater joint force commanders have real time decision making tools to prevent loss of life and delay, disrupt and destroy enemy forces.

“Our Airmen and Soldiers, past and present, have demonstrated their commitment and dedication to excellence by overcoming countless obstacles, generating combat airpower, and taking the fight to our adversaries whenever and wherever called upon,” said Col. Edward Goebel, 461st Air Control Wing commander.  “I am very proud to be part of this unique capability, and I have every confidence Team JSTARS will continue to answer our nation’s call with disciplined execution and dedication to excellence.”

Established Oct. 1, 2002, as the U.S. Air Force’s first total force initiative wing, Team JSTARS is based at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. It is made up of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th ACW, the Air Combat Command’s 461st ACW, and the active duty Army Intelligence and Security Command’s 138th Military Intelligence Company.

“The relationship between the Soldiers and Airmen of Team JSTARS enabled unprecedented, timely support to CENTCOM maneuver commanders, undoubtedly saving countless American and coalition service members’ lives,” said Maj. Nicholas Sikes, 138th MICO commander. “Our support will continue as long as the nation and the joint force commanders need the capabilities we can provide.”

Since 2001, Airmen and Soldiers from Team JSTARS have collectively deployed thousands of times to the CENTCOM area of responsibility in support of the Joint STARS mission. From aircraft maintainers and operators to medical, logistics and administrative personnel, the past 18 years have proven how teamwork, commitment, and service before self all come together to ensure mission success.