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Airman 1st Class Lawrence Genova of the 332nd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, pulls maintenance on a generator — an important piece of equipment for expeditionary units deployed to places where there is no electricity.
Airman 1st Class Lawrence Genova of the 332nd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, pulls maintenance on a generator — an important piece of equipment for expeditionary units deployed to places where there is no electricity. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Airman 1st Class Lawrence Genova of the 332nd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, pulls maintenance on a generator — an important piece of equipment for expeditionary units deployed to places where there is no electricity.
Airman 1st Class Lawrence Genova of the 332nd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, pulls maintenance on a generator — an important piece of equipment for expeditionary units deployed to places where there is no electricity. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Capt. Erik Figueriedo, of the 322 Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, sits inside an operations module used for air traffic control at Balad Air Base.
Capt. Erik Figueriedo, of the 322 Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, sits inside an operations module used for air traffic control at Balad Air Base. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Maj. Michael Krueger, director of operations for the 332nd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq.
Maj. Michael Krueger, director of operations for the 332nd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Lt. Col. Kristen Dolan, commander of the 332nd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and the 603rd Air Control Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
Lt. Col. Kristen Dolan, commander of the 332nd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and the 603rd Air Control Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

BALAD, Iraq — The 603rd Air Control Squadron’s deployment to Iraq has been far from typical.

Most Air Force personnel who deploy to Iraq do so individually or in small groups. Not the 603rd, which sent more than 100 airmen.

Most Air Force personnel are deployed for 90 days. Not the 603rd, which left Aviano Air Base, Italy, in November. The squadron is still in theater and likely will be around for a few more months.

Most Air Force personnel are assigned to one base to carry out their missions. Not the 603rd, which is now based in Balad after spending the first part of its deployment at Baghdad International Airport.

But Lt. Col. Kristen Dolan, the commander in Aviano as well as the leader of the 332nd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron in Iraq, says her airmen have taken it all in stride.

“I’m very proud of them,” she says of the 120 airmen from Aviano and 20 from an Air National Guard sister unit from Utah, the 109th Air Control Squadron. “Overall, I think it’s been a good experience for me as a squadron commander to see what the unit’s made of.”

It’s composed of airmen who know how to do their jobs. A visitor to the compound would be hard pressed to find anyone who will admit to finding any surprises in Iraq.

“I was well-prepared,” says Airman 1st Class Antoine Holt of his job, which involves passing along a picture of airspace activity to the service’s regional headquarters.

“It’s second nature,” Airman 1st Class Lawrence Genova says on maintaining the power that’s essential to keep the squadron’s equipment working around the clock.

Training, the unit’s officers say, is the key to the squadron’s success.

“We train to the point of proficiency and we use that training when we get to the theater,” said Capt. Erik Figueriedo.

“Everything we do here and all the equipment we use is exactly what we have in Aviano,” says Maj. Michael Krueger, director of operations. That includes the four trailer-sized operation modules — weighing in at 16,200 pounds each — that help airmen monitor the airspace over Iraq around the clock.

The 332nd declines to provide details about how much airspace it can monitor. But Krueger says the scope of the mission didn’t change with the move from Baghdad to Balad.

That move is part of a greater shift of Air Force assets from Baghdad to Balad — which is projected to eventually become the service’s major hub in Iraq. Krueger says the 332nd was fortunate in that it had the opportunity to arrange its facilities on a vacant lot near the runway.

As for the move itself, Dolan says that’s part of the unit’s mission.

“Mobility is a part of who we are and what we do,” she says. “But I don’t want you to think that means it was easy,” he said

And airmen acknowledge that there are conditions in Iraq that make the job a bit more challenging.

“Obviously, sand is not good for electronics,” said Capt. Douglas Fowler, chief of maintenance. “The same could be said for heat. But we clean it and maintain it regularly. It’s the same thing we do wherever we go.”

“It’s a little bit different in a war environment than it is in garrison,” Krueger said. “But overall, our responsibilities are basically the same.”

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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