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Members of the Mobile Operations Control Center at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, deploy worldwide in support of P-3 Orion surveillance operations. A six-man detachment from Jacksonville, Fla., is serving in Kandahar. Four of the unit’s sailors are, from left, Lt. Cmdr. Brian Kenney, detachment commander; Petty Officer 1st Class Ray Sibby; Petty Officer 2nd Class Ben Clanton; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Scull.
Members of the Mobile Operations Control Center at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, deploy worldwide in support of P-3 Orion surveillance operations. A six-man detachment from Jacksonville, Fla., is serving in Kandahar. Four of the unit’s sailors are, from left, Lt. Cmdr. Brian Kenney, detachment commander; Petty Officer 1st Class Ray Sibby; Petty Officer 2nd Class Ben Clanton; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Scull. (Jason Chudy / S&S)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — In the elusive hunt for enemy fighters in Afghanistan, Navy surveillance aircraft have a small group of ground-based allies.

A six-man Mobile Operations Control Center deployed to Kandahar supports P-3 Orion crews and their missions over Afghanistan’s more than 650,000 square miles of terrain.

“MOCCs are … for critical voice and data connections for remote P-3 operations,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Kenney, detachment commander of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based unit.

Unit personnel also provide pre-mission planning and post-mission debriefs to the crews, as well as ensuring that anything the aircraft does detect and record is quickly sent to military commanders.

The MOCC allows the aircrew “to focus on flying,” said Kenney, a 26-year Navy veteran.

Navy P-3 Orions have flown over Afghanistan since early in the war, using their onboard imaging and electronics systems to provide bomb damage assessments and locate enemy troops.

They’ve even followed vehicles and, when enemy fighters got out of one vehicle, relayed their location to nearby ground troops, according to a Navy press release from 2003.

But without the MOCC, information couldn’t easily get to commanders. So when the P-3s deploy to remote areas, so does a MOCC.

And that mobility, Kenney explained, is the key to the unit’s operations.

“We bring our own power and gear — satellite dishes, the whole nine yards,” he said. “All we need is a roof overhead and some basic care and feeding.

“We can be anywhere, up and running within two days, depending on what you want,” he said. The MOCC can deploy the entire 14-sailor unit and its equipment on one C-130.

The active-duty unit deployed to the Central Command area of operations with its normal 14-man contingent, Kenney said, but only six currently remain in Afghanistan.

Kenney’s MOCC detachment is also supporting P-3 operations in the Horn of Africa and a handful of its sailors are working with the Navy’s 5th Fleet maritime surveillance headquarters in Bahrain.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Scull, who deployed from the Jacksonville Tactical Support Center, said that he’s worked with MOCCs in Rota, Spain, and in the Balkans.

While assigned to Patrol Squadron 16 in the late 1990s, Scull’s aircraft worked with a MOCC to track the Russian submarine Kursk, which later sank off Norway.

The MOCC, he said, is vital to the P-3 community. “There would be no support [for P-3s] unless they bring a MOCC with them,” he said. “Especially where there are no Tactical Support Centers,” or TSCs.

TSCs are based at certain Navy commands worldwide, and when Navy P-3s deploy somewhere where there isn’t a permanent naval presence, such as in Afghanistan or Africa, one of the eight MOCCs are called to deploy.

MOCC crews normally do between three- and four-month deployments to remote areas and also cover shorter exercises or operations while in Jacksonville.

Petty Officer 1st Class Ray Sibby, a communications specialist who’s been with the unit for three years, has deployed to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, for exercise UNITAS, and has done operational deployments to Souda Bay, Crete, and now Afghanistan.

Sibby, a 17-year Navy veteran, is also the unit’s leading petty officer, cryptologic equipment manager, computer systems administrator and communications equipment specialist.

Having a number of responsibilities is typical for MOCC personnel, he said.

“You have to do things that you’re not normally doing [in your job field],” he said. “It’s a good command to be with — it’s a challenge. By the time you leave … you’ve gained so much knowledge, and not just in your own rate [job].”

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