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Separated, not detached: 20th ATKS Airmen critical to mission

Airmen with the 20th Attack Squadron pose for a group photo in front of an MQ-9 Reaper, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, June 17, 2019. The 20th ATKS is a geographically separated unit that falls under the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing and supports combatant commanders in operations abroad. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Parker J. McCauley)

Airmen with the 20th Attack Squadron pose for a group photo in front of an MQ-9 Reaper, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, June 17, 2019. The 20th ATKS is a geographically separated unit that falls under the 432nd Wing and 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing and supports combatant commanders in operations abroad. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Parker J. McCauley)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. (AFNS) --

The 432nd Wing and 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing is based out of Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, however, its Airmen and their contributions to the MQ-9 Reaper mission are not bound to one installation. There are some operational squadrons that organizationally fall under the 432nd Wing but aren’t physically located on the same base.

The 20th Attack Squadron, a unit under the 25th Attack Group, is one of six U.S.-based units that are geographically separated from the 432nd Wing and 432nd AEW. Despite not being co-located with the majority of the combat squadrons, Airmen assigned to the 20th ATKS have proven to be invaluable to the mission.

“When it comes to supporting the warfighter, they generally don’t care who or where their people are from, as long as they’re providing close air support,” said 1st Lt. Brent, 20th ATKS pilot. “It can be challenging not having your boss in the same location as you, but overall, this career field is all about being geographically separated.”

Brent is referring to how MQ-9s are flown during overseas operations from a state-side ground control station, or cockpit, via satellite link.

Brent also mentioned that being geographically separated fostered a cohesive culture in the unit and has had tangible impact on recent successes.

“It’s a small unit, and you’re so tight knit,” said Airman 1st Class Jeanne, 20th ATKS sensor operator. “My flight has high standards for their sensors and pilots. We’re the best of the best, and we train to be that way.”

In 2018, the 20th ATKS was recognized for being the 432nd Wing’s most lethal squadron, having eliminated over 500 enemies with approximately 30 enemies being high-value targets.

“Here at the 20th, we’re very focused on making sure our crews maintain a high level of proficiency in order to execute the mission that we’re doing,” said Lt. Col. Clint, 20th ATKS director of operations.

Similar to most combat squadrons in the wing, Airmen in the 20th ATKS operate 24/7, 365 days a year. They do this while providing persistent dominant attack and reconnaissance with a heavy focus on close air support for ground troops.

Clint explained that the wing’s focus on empowering Airmen at the lowest level in the squadron allows them to continue to be a lethal asset on the battlefield.

Squadron leadership relies heavily on their flight chiefs and supervisors to continuously hone their Airmen’s skills through feedback and training.

“The biggest thing is how much we’ve improved our effectiveness, particularly with our mission and strikes, I think it is a huge accomplishment,” Clint said.

The 432nd Wing and 432nd AEW Airmen fly the Remotely Piloted Aircraft mission from other locations abroad--not just Creech. Although these units are not physically located with the 432nd Wing, the Airmen support the same mission and each squadron brings a direct impact to the fight, anytime, anywhere.