'Anytime, Anywhere!' 3rd Herd leaves its mark on Air Force history

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The unit shield is unmistakable, a sword intersected with four lightning bolts and the words "Live by the Sword" emblazoned underneath.

When the mantra "Anytime, Anywhere" is exclaimed by 721 combat communicators, it motivates every occupant in any auditorium, parade field or convention hall. The 3rd Combat Communications Group (CCG), affectionately known as the "3rd Herd," has lived by, and lived up to, these slogans for almost six decades as the one of the premier combat communications units in the Air Force.

Now, a new chapter in Air Force combat communications is being written as the service aligns and transforms its deployable communications capability with Air Force core competencies and capabilities required by a new defense strategy and constrained by a new fiscal environment. By prioritizing readiness over force structure, the Air Force announced in March 2012 that it will inactivate one of its two active duty combat communications groups, the 3rd CCG effective June 2013.

The Air Force will transform its ability to employ combat communications by posturing to seamlessly extend cyberspace, provide robust network operations and deliver resilient defense-in-depth to counter adversaries. Ultimately, the changes will result in a lighter, leaner, and more capable combat communications force to support homeland defense operations, humanitarian support missions and overseas contingency operations.

While a bitter sweet event to the many warriors who have passed through this storied unit, the Air Force will continue to provide excellent combat communications through its other active duty combat comm units, the 5th combat Communications Group, or the "5th Mob" located at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, the 1st Combat Communications Squadron in Germany, and the 644th Combat Communications Squadron in Guam.

Since its inception, the 3rd Herd has continually supported theater and combatant commanders with deployable communications and systems. During the early part of its existence, air traffic control services were a significant portion of the group's mission/capability. As the expansion and importance of modern communications and networks progressed, the emphasis of the group moved toward providing core communications services and connectivity to the Global Information Grid in a deployed environment. Irrespective of the technology employed, personnel and equipment from the 3rd CCG have been on standby for immediate deployment for more than five decades. They have stood ready to deploy experts in networks, telephony, radio, satellite communications, radar, navigation systems, air traffic control, vehicle maintenance/operations, logistics, power production, and heating, ventilation, and cooling.

The men and women of the 3rd Herd have distinguished themselves in every major military conflict and humanitarian operation the United States has been involved in since the 1950s ... from operations in Vietnam to closing the final bases in Iraq during OPERATION NEW DAWN. While inactivating and leaving the responsibility of providing world-class combat communications and deployable air traffic control and landing systems services to the remaining combat communications units, it is appropriate to recognize some of the historic achievements of the 3rd Herd during the past 55 years of service to our nation.

Varying opinions abound on the true origins of the 3rd Herd--some say that the unit can trace its roots back to the 3rd Airways and Air Communications Mobile Squadron that was established at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. on Dec. 1, 1952. The official record shows the true lineage is tied to the 3rd Communications Group, established on May 16, 1957 and activated on July 8, 1957 at South Ruislip, England, with the mission to provide communications services to 3rd Air Force. The 1960s saw continuous fluctuations in the U.S. Air Force presence in the United Kingdom which eventually resulted in the inactivation of the unit on July 1, 1962. The 3rd was then reactivated and redesignated the 3rd Mobile Communications Group on May 20, 1964 and assigned to Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. on July 1, 1964. The disagreement on the 3rd's true origins stems from the July 1, 1964 inactivation of the 3rd Mobile Communications Squadron; some of the personnel transferred to the 3rd Mobile Communications Group while the actual unit lineage did not transfer. After several other designations, the group became the 3rd Combat Communications Group on Oct 1, 1986.

Herdsman have deployed across the world to provide communications support to numerous military contingencies including Operation URGENT FURY (Grenada), Operation EAGLE LOOK (Southwest Asia), Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM (Southwest Asia), Operation SOUTHERN WATCH (Southwest Asia), Operation DESERT CALM (Southwest Asia), Operation DESERT FOCUS/STRIKE (Southwest Asia), Operation PROVIDE COMFORT/NORTHERN WATCH (Turkey), Operation RESTORE HOPE (Somalia), Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY (Haiti), Operation PROVIDE PROMISE/DENY FLIGHT (Italy, Croatia) and Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR/GUARD (Bosnia, Italy, Croatia), Operation NEW HORIZONS (Peru), Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (Afghanistan), and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (Iraq), and Operation NEW DAWN (Iraq).

Initial operations were critical to the cold war strategy of containment and supporting 3rd Air Force in Europe as the backstop against the Soviet Union. As the unit transitioned to Tinker Air Force Base, the mission evolved to deploy in the U.S. or abroad to support combat and humanitarian operations or provide emergency restoral of services.

By 1967, military use of satellites became a reality. In November 1968, under a project entitled the Initial Defense Communications Satellite Program, the then 3rd Mobile Communications Group proved the feasibility of the first mobile ground satellite communications terminal a capability which combat communications units cannot operate without today. Located at Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands, the terminal (AN/TSC-54) had a broad reception and transmission range and was symbiotic with the global nature of the group. In the years to follow, the 3rd would become experts on deployable satellite terminals and employ various types and sizes to provide command and control, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities that have become integral to the way the Air Force conducts operations.

During Vietnam, the 3rd assisted the Republic of Vietnam Air Force in developing a command and control system at Tan Son Nhat Air Base and fielded the required communications networks to support it. Called the Tactical Air Control System, the system handled the flow of aircraft from take-off to target area, and return to the base it was launched from, assuring positive control of all areas where significant combat operations were performed. In fact, the TACS facilities were located in close proximity to both the VNAF and USAF forces in South Vietnam, enabling commanders of both to utilize its capabilities. Without this system, it would not have been possible to deploy forces effectively where needed.

After Vietnam, combat communications, and the rest of the Air Force, went through a period of reduced operations and deployments. However, the cold war was still ongoing and the U.S. would once again call upon the 3rd CCG. In 1983, the government of Grenada, with assistance from Cuba and the Soviet Union, established another communist stronghold in the western hemisphere. Following the execution of Grenada's self-proclaimed prime minister, President Ronald Reagan feared that the 1,000 U.S. citizens on the island were in danger and ordered OPERATION URGENT FURY in October 1983. The 3rd Herd rapidly responded and deployed to Grenada, providing satellite and intra-base radio communications to the Airlift Control Center at Point Salines Airport during the rescue operation. Although there were many successes and the support the 3rd CCG provided was stellar, inter-service communications suffered and were highlighted to the U.S. Congress that more attention was needed to improve joint operations in future engagements.

In 1990, the 3rd Herd deployed to the sands of Saudi Arabia and Oman during OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. The group provided the full range of ATCALS and communications across the theater as the U.S. quickly deployed more than 500,000 Airmen to Southwest Asia. Establishing one of the two major satellite communications hubs in Thumrait, Oman, the 31st Combat Communications Squadron proved critical to ensuring one of the most complex contingency network architectures ever built succeeded in connecting the flying wings to the air operations center and delivering the air tasking order, critical to synchronizing complex air combat operations.

The 3rd CCG's motto is "Anytime, Anywhere" and over the years the group provided support to numerous humanitarian operations--delivering critical communications and civil engineering when and where its country needed it. Deployments have included support for tornado recovery, hurricane cleanup, the 1980 Mt. Saint Helens volcano eruption, and even avalanche recovery operations in Alaska. Closer to home, the 3rd Herd supported Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building when one of their own, Airman 1st Class Cartney McRaven of the 32nd Combat Comm Squadron, lost her life during the tragic terrorist attack. As always, the unit quickly responded and provided critical power, radio, and life support to rescue operations.

One of the most far-reaching humanitarian operations occurred in August 2005, when the 31st Combat Communications Squadron responded for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief operations. In the period immediately following one of the most devastating hurricanes, the 3rd Herd embarked on a grueling 36-hour convoy to New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport. There, the 3rd CCG provided the 4th Air Expeditionary Group with vital command and control communications that enabled the rapid restoration of law and order in New Orleans as well as the rescue and evacuation of hurricane victims.

In 2003, the 3rd Herd comprised some of the first forces into Iraq at the beginning of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. Hundreds of 3rd Herders provided the initial communications and air traffic control radars immediately following the invasion in 2003, including bases that would become hubs to the long-term operations such as Baghdad International Airport (Camp Sather). Eventually, the 3rd CCG provided a continuous presence through Ali and Kirkuk Airbases to provide predictability, stability and better service during the long-term commitment.

As the 3rd Herd were there at the beginning of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, it was only fitting that they would be there at the end of OPERATION NEW DAWN. The 3rd CCG, as well as its sister group the 5th CCG, provided "last out" communications to the last remaining air bases in Iraq, providing an orderly transition to the Iraqi government.

Finally, any discussion of the 3rd Herd would be incomplete without mentioning its ever-present mascot. In 1986, Colonel Buford "Randy" Witt was sent to reinvigorate combat communications and move it forward. Among the many improvements he made, one of the most enduring was the new pride and purpose in this very important mission. The 3rd CCG's mascot at the time was an owl and, although proud and wise, it did not reflect the tenacity and toughness required of a combat communicator. In order to shape the culture and improve esprit de corps the mascot was changed to a bull to coincide with the Oklahoma community that the 3rd CCG was part of. In recognition of the leadership that general Witt provided, the bull was named "Buford" and sits prominently in front of the headquarters building. Most importantly, the 3rd CCG took on the nickname of the "Herd" and this is how most people refer to the group today.

This proud group's accomplishments are reflected on its guidon, bending under the weight of 18 combat and unit awards earned over a distinguished history. In addition, the unit produced several general officers from its ranks, such as retired Maj. Gen. Dale Meyerrose, retired Brig. Gen. Buford Witt, retired Brig. Gen. Daniel Dinkins, retired Brig. Gen. David Cotton, Brig. Gen. Gregory Brundidge, the current USEUCOM/J6, and Brig. Gen David Uhrich, the current Air Combat Command Director of Communications.

From 1957 to 2012, the 3rd Herd has provided excellent communications and air traffic control services in defense of our nation. The group has enabled the Air Force to provide global reach and global strike through its expeditionary forces. Although the Herd is inactivating, the spirit, camaraderie, and excellence will live on through its former members' past, and those yet to serve. From the activation of communications sites in a hostile combat zone to local humanitarian support, the Herd has performed its missions flawlessly. Everyday Airmen performing tasks, ready to go anytime, anywhere - that is the Herd legacy.