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Featured Profile for Combat Mission Support Officer
Combat Mission Support Officer

Steve Sewell

I joined the Air Force right out of high school and spent eight years as an airplane powerframe mechanic. I worked as a crew chief mainly on the F-16 Falcon which is one of the fighter jets in the Air Force. At the same time I was going to college part time and eventually got accepted into an ROTC program. I received my commission after getting my degree in Aviation Management from Southern Illinois University.

Once I got my commission, I thought about being a pilot, but at the time I did not meet visual requirements, so instead I entered the career field of Air Battle Management which was just being considered a critical career field. I went to Florida for school and trained on simulators then spent six years in Oklahoma. Most of the Air Force E-3 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) planes are located there at Tinker AFB, near Oklahoma City.

I currently hold a job called Electronic Combat Officer. All radar emissions have signals with a specific parametric signature all their own. On the E-3 we have a Passive Detection System (PDS) that picks up signals and identifies them with the help of some advanced computing. I interface with this system to categorize what these signals are. For example, I can distinguish between types of airplanes or types of Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) systems and can provide that information to pilots so that they know if an enemy plane or SAM is in our area of responsibility (AOR).

The E-3 on which I fly is an airborne command center. The average crew is 20-25 people, each with very specific duties to make the mission happen. We have a pilot, co-pilot, other crewmembers who talk to other airborne pilots, others technicians work with the radar, and another group ensures the “picture” we create is linked to other command and control agencies, whether ground or airborne. We work with other Services to achieve joint battle management control. For example, my career field enables me to fly on the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS). This is a joint Army-Air Force program that uses a long-range, air-to-ground surveillance radar system (E-8) that can locate, classify and track ground targets in all weather conditions.

I have been deployed several times to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. I was part of Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch in the years after the first Gulf War. My job was to help identify enemy airplanes and SAM systems and relay that information to other fighters to prosecute (attack) if necessary.

My number one desire is to teach when I retire from the military. I have been an instructor in the military for several years and I love teaching. I have my master’s degree in human relations and I would like to teach at the college level in aviation related science field(s).

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