461st OSS feeds wing mission, enables squadrons, groups with support services

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Public Affairs

An aircraft cannot fly all by itself, any more than a mission cannot happen all on its own.

It takes effort on multiple fronts.

In the case of the 461st Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, mission success requires the diverse services of the 461st Operations Support Squadron.  

Maj. Jennifer Johnson, 461st OSS chief of staff, said the operations support squadron is the backbone of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System mission.

“The 461st OSS assists the wing and group with daily operations for JSTARS,” she said. “Many of us are operators and have been brought over to assist in critically manned areas, a lot of thankless jobs that are often time consuming and supportive to the flying squadrons.”

As the 461st OSS chief of staff, Johnson assists the commander, as needed, with administrative functions while leading the commander’s support staff.

“Our squadron is one of the busiest in the wing, providing and assisting with group and wing functions, daily,” she said. “As such, our commander is also extremely busy with many of these tasks, and as they say, ‘it takes a village’.”

Johnson, who is also a mission crew commander on the Joint-STARS E-8C aircraft, said the unit has an important role in warfighter support.

“Those who are used to contributing to operations have an important role to the operators because operators cannot fly without those supporting roles and jobs,” she said. “(Team JSTARS has) been deployed in numerous locations around the world in the last year, including many members from the OSS. The wing and group would unlikely function without the OSS.”

More than 200 active-duty military, Defense Department civilians and DOD contractors serve in areas such as training, operations scheduling, tactics, exercises, survival training, physiological training, Army and Marine training, aviation resource management, wing intelligence, aircrew flight equipment, deployment requirements management, administration, and plenty of other important jobs, Johnson said.

Master Sgt. Nick Fortinberry, 461st OSS superintendent who is also an instructor and JSTARS communication systems technician, said the expertise of the operations support team enables warfighters to fulfill their roles in the Air Force mission.

“The people in the 461st OSS directly support the warfighter by delivering the mission planning and training resources needed to execute each mission,” he said. “Our incredible survival instructors and aircrew flight equipment team train, equip, and prepare warfighters to combat potentially unsafe scenarios during missions.”

In his primary role, Fortinberry serves as the principal advisor to the commander and unit supervisor on efficient utilization and professional development of the enlisted personnel.

“Our diverse enlisted team is made of members in 11 Air Force Specialty Codes, and each member plays a vital role in providing world-class operational support to the JSTARS mission,” he said.

As a whole, the 461st OSS has a worldwide reach, Johnson said.

“The JSTARS community provides command and control to the limited airborne community globally,” she said. “Additionally, we have a platform and a lot of smart people who also contribute to our intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance community daily. We directly feed into the wing’s mission by enabling the group and other squadrons with the services we provide as a support squadron.”

Fortinberry said it takes a variety of people with a wide range of skillsets and backgrounds to support the JSTARS mission.

“The 461st OSS mission requires members from a diverse group of Air Force Specialty Codes to come together and achieve team success,” he said. “Through my experience as a teammate in the 461st OSS, I have gained a greater understanding of how each AFSC develops its members to execute the Air Force mission, and it has aided in my own development as a senior noncommissioned officer.”

Johnson said all jobs in the 461st OSS matter to mission success.  

“Not a single job is unimportant here,” she said. “The mission would fail without each of them.”

Like any team, each person has his or her own way of motivating others.

“We are one big family here,” Johnson said. “Bringing a positive attitude daily is important when there is a lot of work and tasks for our squadron to complete. A smile and a simple good morning work wonders on some days. I try to make it a point to know a little about those I work with in the squadron and more for the people on my team.”

Fortinberry has found acknowledging people’s efforts goes a long way.

“I try to share my appreciation for the dedication they have for the mission and each other, even though I feel I’m incapable of communicating just how valuable each member is to the team,” he said. “Our teammates consistently perform at a high level, and there aren’t enough awards to hand out for the amazing work our teammates do.”

Johnson turns to the younger 461st OSS members for personal inspiration.

“My youngest team and squadron mates inspire me the most, as they are the most energetic, and have wonderful fixes that some of the more ‘seasoned’ people may miss, overlook, or not understand,” she said. “They generally have very positive mindsets and a huge understanding of diversity, equality and inclusion overall. They make me better daily and inspire me to view situations, as much as I can, through multiple lenses.”

Fortinberry agreed.

“I’m inspired by the way our young Airmen attack problems and voice their opinions about issues they see,” he said. “They aren’t afraid to ask questions or share outside-of-the-box solutions, and plenty of them do not wait to be told a problem needs to be fixed. Their drive inspires me, and I know the future of the Air Force is in capable hands and ready for the dynamic challenges it faces.”