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NATO mission calls for USAF teamwork

KEFLAVIK, Iceland -- During a NATO air policing exercise, a C-130J Super Hercules, deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is intercepted by an F-15C Eagle, deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. The aircraft are major weapon systems of the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which is made up of both U.S. Air Force and NATO personnel fulfilling an air policing mission that assists in assuring Iceland's air sovereignty from May 12 to June 7, 2012. (Courtesy photo)

KEFLAVIK, Iceland -- During a NATO air policing exercise, a C-130J Super Hercules, deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is intercepted by an F-15C Eagle, deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. The aircraft are major weapon systems of the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which is made up of both U.S. Air Force and NATO personnel fulfilling an air policing mission that assists in assuring Iceland's air sovereignty from May 12 to June 7, 2012. (Courtesy photo)

KEFLAVIK, Iceland -- Airmen deployed from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, conduct a post flight check on a KC-135 Stratotanker at Keflavik International Airport, Iceland May 22, 2012. The aircraft is deployed with the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which is fulfilling an air policing mission that assists in assuring Iceland’s air sovereignty. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Lyndsey Horn)

KEFLAVIK, Iceland -- Airmen deployed from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, conduct a post flight check on a KC-135 Stratotanker at Keflavik International Airport, Iceland May 22, 2012. The aircraft is deployed with the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which is fulfilling an air policing mission that assists in assuring Iceland’s air sovereignty. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Lyndsey Horn)

KEFLAVIK, Iceland -- Two F-15C Eagles deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath taxi at Keflavik International Airport, Iceland after receiving an exercise alert call, May 22, 2012. The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, made up of both U.S. Air Force and NATO personnel, is fulfilling an air policing mission that assists in assuring Iceland's air sovereignty. While there, the squadron is on alert 24/7 and the F-15C can be airborne within 15 minutes. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Lyndsey Horn)

KEFLAVIK, Iceland -- Two F-15C Eagles deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath taxi at Keflavik International Airport, Iceland after receiving an exercise alert call, May 22, 2012. The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, made up of both U.S. Air Force and NATO personnel, is fulfilling an air policing mission that assists in assuring Iceland's air sovereignty. While there, the squadron is on alert 24/7 and the F-15C can be airborne within 15 minutes. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Lyndsey Horn)

KEFLAVIK, Iceland -- The alert phone rings at Keflavik International Airport, Iceland.

A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle pilot, who is on alert 24 hours a day, answers the call. The control and reporting center tells him to report to the operations desk immediately.

At the desk, not only do other F-15C pilots greet him, but so do aircrews from a KC-135 Stratotanker and a C-130J Super Hercules. They receive the operations brief and are put on a three hour stand-by.

The Airmen know when the radio calls "scramble, scramble, scramble," they must run to their planes as quickly as possible. The F-15C will be airborne within 15 minutes, while the KC-135, the C-130J and its pararescuemen will be up in 30 minutes.

These aircrews make up the four major weapon systems of the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and their mission is to conduct NATO air policing for the country of Iceland from May 12 to June 7.

Each of the systems are from a different U.S. Air Force base; the F-15Cs from the 48th Fighter Wing at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England; the KC-135 from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England; the C-130J from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany; and the pararescuemen from the 58th Rescue Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Once the alert sounds the components have their own separate duties in order to support the air policing. The F-15C intercepts unauthorized aircraft flying through Iceland's sovereign air space; the KC-135 provides tanker support should bad weather show up and the fighter jets cannot land; the C-130J works closely with the Icelandic Coast Guard to deliver combat search and rescue for downed aircrew.

The groups, however, are closely integrated.

"When we first got here, I gave them our capabilities brief," said Capt. Chris Leonhardt, 58th RQS combat rescue officer. "We are integrated with the (Control Reporting Center) and I have to coordinate with the actual EFS commander to get execution authority. We are all intertwined."

This integration allows them to work together in ways they have not often done before.

"It is cool to see them (the other aircrews) face-to-face," said 1st Lt. Dave Kuhn, 493rd EFS weapons. "We do mission planning with them and conduct exercises."

During one exercise in particular, the C-130J became the unfriendly aircraft flying above the Icelandic snow topped mountains and the F-15Cs practiced intercepting it.

"The C-130 is a lot larger and slower (than an F-15C)," said Kuhn, making the interception a unique experience. "It is neat to work with something other than an F-15."

Even though the operating systems for the four components are different, at the end of the day, they work together for one NATO mission.

"It is good for all different groups to understand how we work and operate together," said Capt. Charrissa DeLion, 493rd EFS KC-135 pilot. "When we work like this together we realize we have more similarities than differences."