TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Whenever the Pentagon wants to call one of its nuclear subs in the Pacific, the call goes through the quiet Navy professionals whose E-6B Mercury communication aircraft fly out of their unobtrusive alert facility on Travis’ south side.
Like fishermen, the aircrew of Travis’ VQ-3 detachment spends long hours out over the Pacific, catching messages with a five-mile trailing antenna that will then be sent to the subs cruising safely and silently under water within 1,000 miles of the aircraft.
“We are one big relay platform,” said VQ-3 Detachment Officer in Charge Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jason Anstead.
The unit’s unofficial name, TACAMO, stands for Take Charge and Move Out. It was born in July 1963 when the director of naval communications for the chief of naval operations used those words to start work on coming up with a better way to communicate with the Navy’s nuclear submarines.
This system had to be capable of surviving any hostile military action, something ground-based communications sites were incapable of doing, according to Anstead.
The result was the creation of Strategic Communications Wing 1, which is headquartered at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and oversees three fleet air reconnaissance squadrons. One of those, VQ-3, has the detachment, which is stationed on the south side of Travis Air Force Base’s runway. It’s sister unit, VQ-4, has a detachment that is stationed on the East Coast at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
Initially, the wing was equipped with modified C-130 Hercules aircraft. They were replaced with the E-6 Mercury, which is a heavily modified Boeing 707 packed with high-tech communications gear.
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