73 SOS Airman provides eyes in the sky

An AC-130W Stinger II, 73rd Special Operations Squadron, taxis down the flight line at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., July 12, 2012. The Stinger is operated by the 73 SOS who’s dedicated and level-headed Airmen strive every day to ensure that their motto “Without fail” is achieved. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)

An AC-130W Stinger II, 73rd Special Operations Squadron, taxis down the flight line at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., July 12, 2012. The Stinger is operated by the 73 SOS who’s dedicated and level-headed Airmen strive every day to ensure that their motto “Without fail” is achieved. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- The 73rd Special Operations Squadron's maxim, "without fail," became more paramount to Senior Airman Erich Brown, 73 SOS loadmaster, than ever before as he and his comrades took to the skies of Afghanistan to protect America's sons and daughters from the scars of war.

Manning the multifaceted AC-130W Stinger II aircraft, members of the 73 SOS were able to provide close air support and armed reconnaissance to friendly ground forces.

"For three months we worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day to ensure our counterparts had continuous and accurate armed over-watch," Brown said. "That entails everything from clearing villages for weapons caches and drugs, to uncovering homemade explosives."

Loadmasters primarily operate in a mobility capacity. While manning the Stinger II, Brown had the opportunity to up the ante, performing gunner duties in addition to conventional loadmaster obligations.

"I was able to perform many duties that may have been unavailable to me in another command," Brown said. "Traditional loadmasters carry cargo and passengers rather than directly supporting ground forces from overhead."

Master Sgt. John Wade, 73 SOS operations superintendent, echoed Brown's sentiments.

"Being on a gunship as opposed to functioning on a mobility platform allows Airmen to see the impact of their efforts firsthand instead of hearing about it from a distance after the fact."

"When flying it is important to reduce risk as much as possible," Brown said. "Flying at higher altitudes allows us a certain degree of safety while maintaining uninterrupted support for our ground forces. We acknowledge the increased threat, adjust and press on with the mission."

Despite the danger of navigating the tumultuous skies of the Middle East, Brown is firm in his belief that the reward outweighs the risk.

"It is really satisfying to know you play a role in bringing someone's son, daughter, father or mother home safely," he said. "Our presence overhead helps to deter the enemy and emphasizes my confidence in the Air Force Special Operations Command mission."

Wade attributes the unit's undisputed success down range to exceptional Airmen such as Brown.

"The 73 SOS is comprised of dedicated, level-headed Airmen who have a wealth of knowledge and experience at their disposal," he said. "Airman Brown is a prime example of such an Airman and an asset to our mission."