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Eyes in the Sky

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Favian Arteaga, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron airborne surveillance technician (left), uses a communication system March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. Airborne surveillance technicians make the initial identification of friend or foe aircraft and monitor their position. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Favian Arteaga, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron airborne surveillance technician (left), uses a communication system March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. Airborne surveillance technicians make the initial identification of friend or foe aircraft and monitor their position. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony Aranda, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron air radar technician, inspects an E-3 Sentry aircraft for damage during a rapid depressurization drill March 28, 2017, while flying over the Pacific Ocean. Radar technicians can take on various roles, such as a fire fighter, within the mission crew area in the event of an emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony Aranda, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron air radar technician, inspects an E-3 Sentry aircraft for damage during a rapid depressurization drill March 28, 2017, while flying over the Pacific Ocean. Radar technicians can take on various roles, such as a fire fighter, within the mission crew area in the event of an emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force air weapons officers from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron communicate with F-15 Eagles from Kadena Air Base, Japan, March 28, 2017, during a training mission over the Pacific Ocean. The 961st conducts routine training with local fighter units to stay proficient at air combat operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force air weapons officers from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron communicate with F-15 Eagles from Kadena Air Base, Japan, March 28, 2017, during a training mission over the Pacific Ocean. The 961st conducts routine training with local fighter units to stay proficient at air combat operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Favian Arteaga, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron airborne surveillance technician (left), uses a communication system March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. Airborne surveillance technicians make the initial identification of friend or foe aircraft and monitor their position. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Favian Arteaga, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron airborne surveillance technician (left), uses a communication system March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. Airborne surveillance technicians make the initial identification of friend or foe aircraft and monitor their position. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron airborne surveillance technicians conduct a crew coordination drill March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. The team was evaluated as they went over emergency procedures and continued their job in a simulated depressurized atmosphere. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron airborne surveillance technicians conduct a crew coordination drill March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. The team was evaluated as they went over emergency procedures and continued their job in a simulated depressurized atmosphere. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

A U.S. Air Force flight engineer from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron monitors E-3 Sentry aircraft systems March 28, 2017, while flying in an over the Pacific Ocean. The flight engineer is the only enlisted Airman who operates in the Sentry’s cockpit and acts as a bridge between the flight deck and mission crew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

A U.S. Air Force flight engineer from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron monitors E-3 Sentry aircraft systems March 28, 2017, while flying in an over the Pacific Ocean. The flight engineer is the only enlisted Airman who operates in the Sentry’s cockpit and acts as a bridge between the flight deck and mission crew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Matthew Starck, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron mission crew commander, dawns individual protective gear for a rapid depressurization drill March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. Aircrew members are constantly being tested on how to react in emergency scenarios during training operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Matthew Starck, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron mission crew commander, dawns individual protective gear for a rapid depressurization drill March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. Aircrew members are constantly being tested on how to react in emergency scenarios during training operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Favian Arteaga, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron airborne surveillance technician, uses a communication system March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. Surveillance technicians detect, track and identify friendly and enemy aircraft and forward all relevant information to the airborne air control system controller team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Favian Arteaga, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron airborne surveillance technician, uses a communication system March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. Surveillance technicians detect, track and identify friendly and enemy aircraft and forward all relevant information to the airborne air control system controller team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony Lambrechts, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron communication technician (left) and SSgt. Michael Burch, 961st AACS communication system operator, conduct a communications sweep March 28, 2017, during a training mission over the Pacific Ocean. Communications Airmen provide radio support to the aircrew, allowing for a secure means to communicate with partnered aircraft and various ground agencies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony Lambrechts, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron communication technician (left) and SSgt. Michael Burch, 961st AACS communication system operator, conduct a communications sweep March 28, 2017, during a training mission over the Pacific Ocean. Communications Airmen provide radio support to the aircrew, allowing for a secure means to communicate with partnered aircraft and various ground agencies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron prepares to conduct aerial refueling with an E-3 Sentry from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron March 28, 2017, over the Pacific Ocean. The 909th ARS provides combat-ready KC-135 tanker aircrews to support peacetime operations and all levels of conflict in the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)
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A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron prepares to conduct aerial refueling with an E-3 Sentry from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron March 28, 2017, over the Pacific Ocean. The 909th ARS provides combat-ready KC-135 tanker aircrews to support peacetime operations and all levels of conflict in the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Victor Wadsley, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron pilot, checks gauges on an E-3 Sentry March 28, 2017, over the Pacific Ocean. The radar and computer subsystems in the Sentry can gather and present broad and detailed battlefield information. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)
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U.S. Air Force Maj. Victor Wadsley, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron pilot, checks gauges on an E-3 Sentry March 28, 2017, over the Pacific Ocean. The radar and computer subsystems in the Sentry can gather and present broad and detailed battlefield information. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

U.S. Air Force aircrew from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron operate an E-3 Sentry aircraft March 28, 2017, while flying during a training exercise over the Pacific Ocean. The 961st AACS is a combat-ready E-3 Sentry squadron providing airborne command and control, long-range surveillance, detection and identification information for commanders in support of U.S. goals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)
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U.S. Air Force aircrew from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron operate an E-3 Sentry aircraft March 28, 2017, while flying during a training exercise over the Pacific Ocean. The 961st AACS is a combat-ready E-3 Sentry squadron providing airborne command and control, long-range surveillance, detection and identification information for commanders in support of U.S. goals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

A U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry pilot from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron prepares for takeoff March 28, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. In support of air-to-ground operations, the Sentry can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close-air support for friendly ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)
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A U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry pilot from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron prepares for takeoff March 28, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. In support of air-to-ground operations, the Sentry can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close-air support for friendly ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

A U.S. Air Force pilot from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron approaches the runway of Kadena Air Base, Japan, March 28, 2017. In support of air-to-ground operations, the Sentry can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close-air support for friendly ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)
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A U.S. Air Force pilot from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron approaches the runway of Kadena Air Base, Japan, March 28, 2017. In support of air-to-ground operations, the Sentry can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close-air support for friendly ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

A U.S. Air Force air weapons officer from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron plans out a training combat scenario March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. As an air defense system, the Sentry can detect, identify and track airborne enemy forces far from the boundaries of the United States or NATO countries. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)
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A U.S. Air Force air weapons officer from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron plans out a training combat scenario March 28, 2017, while flying in an E-3 Sentry over the Pacific Ocean. As an air defense system, the Sentry can detect, identify and track airborne enemy forces far from the boundaries of the United States or NATO countries. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

Aircrew from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron step toward an E-3 Sentry March 28, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 961st's airborne warning and control systems provide command and control for the Pacific theater, management of theater forces, and early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied, and coalition operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)
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Aircrew from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron step toward an E-3 Sentry March 28, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 961st's airborne warning and control systems provide command and control for the Pacific theater, management of theater forces, and early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied, and coalition operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

Aircrew from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron step onto an E-3 Sentry March 28, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The Sentry has rotating radar with a range of more than 250 miles, providing early warning and detection for missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)
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Aircrew from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron step onto an E-3 Sentry March 28, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The Sentry has rotating radar with a range of more than 250 miles, providing early warning and detection for missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier/released)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

Playing hiding seek isn’t too hard of a game; at least that’s the case when you’ve got a teammate on your side who has climbed up the tallest tree around and can see where everyone is hiding through his binoculars. Not only that, but he’s going to tell you exactly where to find them via walkie talkie.

Of course this is all make believe, but the aircraft operating here in Japan really do have their own friend in the tree – so to speak.

The 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron provides command and control support for all U.S. and allied aircraft that need it within their area of operation. Aircrews comprised of more than 18 members operate the E-3 Sentry to monitor the skies with its 30-foot rotating radar to relay important information.

“We are the guys in the air and on the radio telling the pilots of other aircraft where they need to go and what they need to do,” said Maj. Jeff Yeatman, 961st AACS mission crew commander. “This can be about changing their altitude for the safety of the flight or to de-conflict them with other airplanes. It can also be helping them find the tanker that’s going to refuel them and it can be to warn them about a threat that’s in the area.”

The Sentry is comprised of four sections that crews sometimes refer to as the four tribes. Together, they run the airborne warning and control system.

The four tribes are made up of flight deck members, technicians, controllers and the surveillance team.

Members of the flight deck are responsible for the overall conduct of flight operations and placement of the aircraft

A team of technicians operate the aircraft mission systems and stand ready to repair any equipment that malfunctions during the flight.

A surveillance team is constantly tracking everything on the radar and passes the most useful information to the controller team.

Controllers are constantly communicating with other aircraft in order to make sure air traffic doesn’t conflict with each other. They also provide guidance to fighter pilots and ensure tactical dominance is maintained.  

“The four tribes work together to bring situational awareness to any air battle,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Anderson, 961st AACS commander. “It takes a team to make this happen and because of that we can share the big picture with friendly aircraft and operations centers.”

In some situations, the AWACS is used as extension for the higher headquarters air operations center. Commanders can then reach out and push instructions and orders to the forces under their command.

The AWACS can also support and coordinate jointly with other services, such as Army forces on the ground and can be used to identify ships for the Navy during maritime operations.

Plenty of man hours proceed each mission. Airmen from the 961st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work around-the-clock to make sure the jet is ready to go and hours more coordination goes into mission planning to ensure the aircrew stays current with all training needs.

Whether it’s interdicting an enemy’s war making capabilities through awareness or identifying an unknown object, the AWACS is nothing without the Airmen who support it.

 “The most rewarding part about working with the AWACS is the people,” said Anderson. ”In the end, that's what makes the mission happen. Building relationships between the four tribes, and also the maintenance folk who support them, is invaluable because you just can't get the mission done without them.”