Top secret McConnell mission fights terrorism from surveillance planes

Published: May. 13, 2016 at 6:32 PM CDT
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While American soldiers fight terrorism on the ground, troops in Wichita watch their backs from the sky. "It could mean a soldier coming home or not," said a commander with the 184th Intelligence Wing at McConnell Air Force Base. "So we take great pride in that."

The Wichita troops are not deployed. They are men and women you could see at the grocery store, or they might even coach your child's little league football team. Because of what they do, they could be a target for terrorists. That's why Eyewitness News agreed to hide their faces for protection.

The mission looks at videos and images, taken from surveillance planes, and warns ground troops of immediate danger. They also help plan around future threats. "Is it a farmer cultivating their land? Or is it somebody digging in a field, trying to set or place an IED," the commander explained."

As a part of the "kill chain," they do not pull the trigger, but provide vital information to those that do. "This is not X-Box and it's not PlayStation, you know. This is real," said the mission's chaplain. "There is death and destruction, but we do save lives."

The chaplain helps troops deal with the balance of wartime stress at work and a normal, American, free way of life at home. "It's very surreal," said the chaplain. "Doing what we do, and then going home, then coming back, then going home ... that constant repetition weighs heavy on the family."

"Your family doesn't understand it, your friends don't understand it, and you can't talk about it," said the commander.

While terrorists plot to harm U.S. forces, citizens, and allies, these men and women work to stop them from Wichita. It is a battle from computer screens helping soldiers return home.

"Just the different emotions that you go through, knowing that those guys are coming home," said the commander. "Maybe that's the one that you saw in the airport, and that it was because of a mission that we did here that that guy's walking through the airport and he's hugging his family."

The mission is so classified, most of the specific questions we asked could not be answered. It is a mysterious and private life they cannot share with friends or even family at home.

"There's been a lot of difficulty, there's been a lot of heartbreak, there's been a lot of sorrow and grief," said the chaplain. "But that's balanced out by a lot of joy."