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Intel squadron achieves full operational capability

A U-28A aircraft taxies in after completing a mission March 31 at Hurlburt Field, Florida. As part of the mission, Staff Sgt. Kyle Cook, a tactical system operator with the 28th Intelligence Squadron, completed his aircraft mission qualification training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kai White)

A U-28A aircraft taxies in after completing a mission March 31 at Hurlburt Field, Florida. As part of the mission, Staff Sgt. Kyle Cook, a tactical system operator with the 28th Intelligence Squadron, completed his aircraft mission qualification training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kai White)

Staff Sgt. Kyle Cook, a tactical system operator with the 28th Intelligence Squadron, gets doused after completing his aircraft mission qualification training March 31 at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The completion of that training pushed the squadron to its goal of full operational capability more than a year ahead of schedule. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kai White)

Staff Sgt. Kyle Cook, a tactical system operator with the 28th Intelligence Squadron, gets doused after completing his aircraft mission qualification training March 31 at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The completion of that training pushed the squadron to its goal of achieving full operational capability ahead of schedule. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kai White)

ROBINS AFB, Ga. -- After only 18 months – 6 months ahead of schedule – the 28th Intelligence Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, achieved full operational capability.

The milestone was achieved after Staff Sgt. Kyle Cook performed a check ride as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operator in a special operations aircraft March 31. This was the final training requirement the squadron needed to complete to have the trained personnel to achieve FOC status.

“It was very gratifying for me individually to know that we finally attained the goal that was set out before us as a squadron, especially since it was years in the making,” Cook said. “I was fortunate enough to be the one in the training cycle that put the squadron over the threshold.”

The check ride was Cook’s final evaluation to deem him qualified for his job as a tactical systems operator.

“This was a big deal,” he said. “I feel blessed to be able to fly by myself and not have my instructor with me.”

The 28th IS is a geographically separated unit that is part of the 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. To achieve FOC, the squadron had to reach a high level of mission capability. In addition, the vast majority of the unit’s members had to be ready to deploy, and the squadron had to be fully manned.

"The hard work of the Airmen of this squadron led to reaching our FOC goal well before our established deadline," said Lt. Col. Joseph Marcinek, 28th IS commander. "I'm proud of the job they've done so far and will continue to do in this critical mission."

To meet these requirements so quickly, Marcinek and his staff focused on recruitment, training, readiness, and integration with the squadron's active-duty associate unit, the 25th IS. In addition, the 28th relied heavily on support from other Air Force Reserve Command intelligence squadrons as well as another Reserve unit at Duke Field – the 919th Special Operations Wing.

“I want to thank our customer, the 25th IS, and the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group (at Hurlburt) for being amazing and supportive mission partners,” Marcinek said. “Also, our leadership in the 655 ISRG and Air Force Reserve Command Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Directorate at Robins AFB, Georgia, as well as our other stakeholders and mission partners in the 919th SOW, 1st SOW and Air Force Special Operations Command, for providing superior service and collaboration to get our job done.”

The squadron is the first Reserve tactical systems operator squadron. Its mission is to organize and train total force integrated personnel to deliver specialized analysis directly to Air Force special operations forces, provide equipment maintenance and configuration, analysis and dissemination, airborne ISR, and operational support.

“The Air Force Reserve is aligning itself to meet the demands of the warriors around the world,” said Col. Douglas Drakeley, the command’s ISR director at Robins AFB and former 655th ISRG commander. “We have the ability to support the nation in a cost-effective way by co-locating with active duty and employing Reservists as the mission arises, in order to meet the strategy for combatant commanders around the world.”

The 655 ISRG is growing rapidly right now in order to provide some relief to the stress its active-duty counterparts are experiencing due to back-to-back deployments.

“There is an insatiable demand for more ISR personnel by combatant commands,” Drakeley said.

The group stood up in October 2012 with 38 people and has grown to include 11 classic associate intelligence squadrons in six states that conduct eight different missions with more than 1,000 people. By next year, the 655th is expected to add three more squadrons that will put them at more than 1,300 people.

“The great thing about these jobs, from a Reserve standpoint, is that most of them are here in U.S. operations centers, so our Reservists can do their civilian job during the week and then come to work on the weekend to work missions from here,” Drakeley said. “In nine out of our 11 squadrons, it’s possible for us to do global activities from the U.S. It’s a great role for Reservists.”

A sister squadron to the 28th IS, the 49th IS at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, is still working to achieve FOC but hasn’t met its training requirements yet, Drakeley said. He said the squadron is facing a challenge getting people with specialized skillsets qualified on a different airframe, the Rivet-Joint 135. Personnel with experience on this airframe can contact an Air Force Reserve recruiter.

For more information about any intelligence job opportunities in the Reserve, please contact your local recruiter.

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