7th Reconnaissance Squadron supports NATO's eastern flank operations

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Chance Nardone
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

NATO Allied Air Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and Air Combat Command execute intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations and command and control support utilizing a variety of units and assets within the European theater.

The 7th Reconnaissance Squadron, a geographically separated unit under the 319th Reconnaissance Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, is the largest tenant command located at Naval Air Station Sigonella on the island of Sicily, Italy. The 7th RS includes over 190 personnel, from across 29 Air Force Specialty Codes, that directly support allied and U.S. coalition operations throughout NATO’s eastern flank.

“We have two missions here, the primary mission is launching, recovering and providing sorties for the RQ-4 Block 40 aircraft in support of EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM missions,” said Maj. Benjamin Buckley, the assistant director of operations for the 7th RS.

The efforts from 7th RS airmen are just one piece of the puzzle. Once an RQ-4 Global Hawk is launched from NAS Sigonella, a pilot and sensor operator attached to the 348th RS, the flying unit under the 319th RW at Grand Forks AFB, will take control.

“We provide 24/7 nonstop intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support in EUCOM, CENTCOM and AFRICOM,” said Lt. Col. David Hind, commander of the 7th RS. “The Global Hawk allows us the capability to pilot the aircraft from anywhere in the world. We maintain a pilot presence here locally to command the aircraft during take-offs and landings and then we can pass control to pilots flying at the home station at Grand Forks Air Force Base.”

The ability to pilot Global Hawks from anywhere in the world recently allowed the 7th RS to forward deploy and launch sorties from another airfield in Europe.

“We recently tested our mission capabilities of Agile Combat Employment for the very first time as an enterprise in Europe by moving personnel, maintenance equipment and an RQ-4 to Larissa Air Base, Greece, and partnered with the Hellenic Air Force to exercise new patterns and skills at a dynamic location,” said Buckley. “There were a ton of moving parts and it took a lot of hard work from our airmen here and enterprise back home, but it was a very successful accomplishment.”

U.S. Air Force operations and movements like these require full coordination with allies and partners all over the globe. Hind said the airmen of the 7th RS are committed to and capable of responding to any scenario thrown their way.

“From supporting Operations Allies Refuge, to providing disaster relief from the flood that devastated base housing, my airmen were continuously launching missions on time throughout the entirety of it all,” said Hind. “I want to say thank you to the airman of the 7th RS for being true professionals throughout my time as the commander and for ensuring we continue to protect, maintain and employ reconnaissance capabilities throughout EUCOM.”

Units like the 7th RS prove the U.S. is engaged, postured and ready with credible forces to assure, deter and defend in an increasingly complex security environment. The airmen of the 7th RS work alongside multinational and interservice members every day.

“The island of Sicily itself is a strategic area because it has been a hub for naval and air operations for many years,” said Buckley. “For the 7th RS being embedded with our Italian and Naval partners here, it allows us to reach and support anywhere in EUCOM, AFRICOM and most of CENTCOM with reconnaissance operations.”

Strategically speaking, when the 7th RS forward deploys, there’s a good chance a Global Hawk mission is still launching from NAS Sigonella.

“NATO’s Global Hawk operations are also based out of Sicily. NATO complies with its requirements and provides support solely to its partner countries,” said Buckley. “What the 7th RS does is provide support from the United States to our partner interest and customer base. There can be times where that support overlaps and we can collaborate on shared efforts, but there are also times where we are only supporting operations from the U.S.”

The ability to communicate and seamlessly operate alongside allies and partners within the NATO alliance is integral to ensuring global security. On a recent visit to NAS Sigonella, Col. Timothy Curry, the commander of the 319th RW, said the airmen of 7th RS have a large responsibility to their nation and to the world.

“Being defenders of liberty, we carry the torch,” said Curry. “The torch stands for preserving life and giving people opportunity. That’s what you all do here; we need you. It’s inspiring to me as a leader to see all the great things the airmen at the 7th RS are accomplishing.”

As the globally contested environment continues to evolve, ISR airmen and platforms like those at the 7th RS will continue to remain postured and prepared to provide near real time awareness to combat-capable forces in an effort to deter aggression and defend our allies and partners, should deterrence fail.