Me: You’re an Electronic Combat Officer (ECO) for the United States Air Force. What does that mean really?
Capt Katriina Clegg: As an ECO aboard the E-3, you are the only aircrew qualified to operate the Passive Detection System (PDS). The PDS is intended to give AWACS on-board identification capability which is a valuable electronic support tool to identify threatening or enemy aircraft and ground emitters (i.e., surface-to-air missile sites). The ECO operates the PDS and evaluates, coordinates, and reports electronic intelligence. I have been an ECO for almost 3 years and now get to instruct and evaluate other ECOs. I like that the job is detail oriented and requires a bit of detective work analyzing parametric data from emitters to determine the identity.
There are many times during flights and/or simulations when detection and analysis need to be completed quickly and correctly. The only way to get better and faster at your job as an aircrew member is through effective mission planning and experience. I like the stress that that comes with the need for accuracy and efficiency.
Me: Why do people call you Fiin?
Capt Clegg: The short answer is that I received my callsign from my previous Commander Lt Col Coyle at a callsign ceremony for being Finnish and having 2 ii’s in my name, something that’s constantly brought up in conversations. Longer callsign stories are only told when you buy someone a beer.
Me: Next time, for sure! So word has it that on your most recent deployment, you were in charge of all AWACS operations in theater? What can you tell me about that experience?
Capt Clegg: I recently returned from my 3rd deployment to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. This was my first deployment that I was not assigned to a flying crew but instead, was the Electronic Support Team chair working with AWACS Mission Planning Cell. I was the subject matter expert and responsible for providing sound tactics, techniques, and procedures in regards to PDS and emitter detection capabilities for 6 deployed crews flying combat sorties. As the point of contact for Electronic Support in AWACS, I needed to coordinate and filter information from electronic intelligence, database support airmen, maintenance, and the 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron in Eglin, FL. I had to maintain the E-3’s ability to correctly detect, identify, and locate emitters of interest to maximize combat effectiveness and threat detection.
It was a particularly exciting and challenging deployment due to the dynamic operations between Syria, Iraqi, and Russian aircraft operating unilaterally in Syria. Also, just before my arrival, we had the first E-3G upgraded Block 40/45 aircrafts arrive to a combat environment and so my team and I had to keep both old and new operating systems updated with current airspace and aircraft information. I learned so much from working with a dozen different career fields and was gratified by the experience because you get to see immediate results of your work in a deployed setting. I had an amazing team of airmen that made my job easier and were a joy to work with.
Me: Your thoughts about being a leader in the Air Force?
Capt Clegg: I was at a lecture of Lt Gen Kwast’s and felt validated when he referred to servant-leadership because this is a description I would use to describe great leadership I have witnessed and aspire towards. I believe it is very important for Flight/CC, SQ/CC, etc to understand that they are in their position to serve those below them and especially to be their ‘top cover.’ My last two Squadron Commanders emphasized they were indeed our top cover and gave us the freedom to make decisions and mistakes in order to learn and grow as leaders. The culture bred an atmosphere of trust and professionalism.
While I was honored to serve as a flight commander of over 50 fellow officers, my Lieutenants knew I was always available to them. Just as my commander trusted me to lead the flight, I would in turn, trust and challenge my Lieutenants to take charge of projects and come up with solutions on their own. It is also important to take time for mentorship and continue to pass down insights and lessons learned just as I have been fortunate to receive those from several supervisors and mentors.
Me: Girls dream about doing different things when they grow up. Is what you’re doing now anything close to what you had envisioned for yourself when you were younger?
Capt Clegg: Actually, yes. I have wanted to be in the Air Force since I was a teenager. While growing up in a small town in Michigan, I had never seen or known anyone in the military. My parents took me to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio when I was about 14. I was in awe of the airmen I saw in their uniforms and I wanted to fly all the planes in the museum. The men and women I saw in uniform looked so professional and confident that I knew I wanted to wear that uniform and feel that same pride I saw in them.
I then started flying when I was 16 and earned my private pilot’s license before attending college. While in college, I realized I did not want to be a pilot for a living but was still interested in aviation and being in the Air Force. When I found out about the rated flying position, ABM (Air Battle Manager), I knew it was perfect for me. I love that being an ABM is a different job every day and it requires constant learning that keeps me challenged.
Me: Speaking of challenges, what’s a challenge you’ve turned into a victory?
Capt Clegg: When I first came into the military, I would get anxious speaking to strangers and being in large groups. I was not shy, just not very comfortable around people I did not know, especially in groups. In the military, you are constantly meeting new people and forced out of your comfort zone on a regular basis.
You can say I am an introvert who has become comfortable being an extrovert when I need to. Briefing small and large groups of people is a common practice as an aircrew member, so over time I have been desensitized to the stress of speaking in front of groups. In the beginning, I would have to practice many times alone and be extra prepared in order to brief groups of people but now, I do not worry about it. Experience and competency in your job builds confidence and it is easy to talk about topics your knowledgeable about.
Although it has been stressful many times, I value my military experience thus far and skills I have gained. I now enjoy flying on the E-3 sometimes with a completely different crew from the previous flight. Now I can appreciate the opportunities to meet someone new and to work with a new group of people, especially since we all treat each other as part of the Air Force family.
Me: A challenge you enjoy when you’re not in a flight suit?
Capt Clegg: I am still just an amateur, but I enjoy woodworking. My father can make fine furniture you would buy in a store and I have a long way to go if I am to be as good as him. For now, I am learning new techniques with each piece of furniture I build. I have made a console table and a couple of side tables so far. What I like about woodworking is its blend of technical and artistic skills. It’s something that lets me explore and fulfill my creative sides.