Joint U.S. military operates in East China Sea to uphold free, open Indo-Pacific

During the last week of June, Airmen from 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron joined the crew of USS Dewey (DDG 105) to support operations in the East China Sea.

Joint operations test the capabilities of U.S. forces serving in Japan. Fighter pilots and air controllers from the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps tested their skills during active missions, allowing them to integrate and train in a joint environment.

Operations Specialist 2nd Class Brandon Pratt, who worked closely with the airmen, shared his thoughts on the airmen coming aboard Dewey.

“The airmen have been an awesome addition to our team, not only giving Navy personnel a better idea of what an airmen’s day-to-day (routine) is like, but also allowing them to see the trials and tribulations of a sailor’s day-to-day life while underway,” said Pratt.

When it comes to interoperability between the military branches, the Navy and Marine Corps work together the most frequently, and airmen coming aboard naval vessels is a less frequent occurrence. Air Force Maj. Michael Brode, the chief of weapons and tactics of the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron from Kadena Air Base, explained just how unusual it actually is for airmen to go to sea.

“It is generally very rare for airmen to get underway on Navy vessels, but it is especially rare in our career field,” said Brode. “This will likely be the only time any member of our team will be aboard a Navy vessel. The only time I’ve heard of Air Force Air Battle Managers (ABM) going underway is as a liaison officer on big-deck ships. I’ve never heard of ABMs integrating with a cruiser or destroyer underway.”

According to Pratt, the operation gave both sailors and airmen a unique opportunity to work together.

“The airmen and Dewey’s controllers have been working together to monitor and control an airspace in one of the busiest areas of operation in the world,” said Pratt.

U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet is the largest forward-deployed fleet and routinely operates and interacts with 35 maritime nations while conducting missions to preserve and protect critical regional partnerships.

“Being stationed in the 7th Fleet area of operations, we have a very unique opportunity to be on the leading edge of the nation’s defense priorities,” said Brode. “It’s very rewarding to see the direct impact of the missions we execute on the political strategy of our homeland. It’s also great being able to integrate with so many partner nations.”

In addition to experiencing operations at sea, the airmen learned about the ship’s capabilities, which serves to enhance cohesion in future joint operations between the two branches.

“When planning future integration missions with cruisers or destroyers, we will have a much better understanding of the capabilities the platforms bring to the fight,” said Brode. “Our crews will now be able to more seamlessly integrate with naval surface vessels during training and combat operations. We frequently train with naval aviation units, but this was a very unique opportunity to integrate with the surface warfare team.”

Between branches of service, there can be similarities and differences in how two branches operate and Brode commended the Airmen on their adaptability.

“The system that we interacted with while executing the mission was very different from the system we use at our home command. Otherwise, the responsibilities are very similar,” said Brode. “They (the airmen) have adapted very well to the challenges of working on a Navy vessel. They did a fantastic job learning to execute their jobs from a new system and making the most of opportunities to explore the ship and learn about naval missions when not on watch.”

Living aboard a Navy vessel comes with a unique set of challenges and Brode shared how he and his team adapted to those challenges and the lessons learned they were able to provide to their airmen counterparts.

“Our biggest challenge has been balancing the priorities of our command and leadership with the missions the Dewey is tasked to support,” said Brode. “We’ve had plenty of other minor lessons learned along the way while adapting to life underway. From a personal aspect, it has been very unique to have limited to no access to internet and communications with family. Ask as many questions as you can. There are so many unique jobs and functions on the Dewey that I never considered before coming aboard. From the engineering spaces to the bridge, there is so much to see and learn from.”

Dewey is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet is the largest forward-deployed fleet and routinely operates and interacts with 35 maritime nations while conducting missions to preserve and protect critical regional partnerships.

Text credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Samantha Oblander, Commander, Task Force 71/Destroyer Squadron 15 Public Affairs.

Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Samantha Oblander. Airmen assigned to 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron onboard Kadena Air Base participate in operations from the Combat Information Center aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105). 

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