Task Force Ironhorse, 173d Airborne Brigade, based out of Vicenza, Italy secured the oil rich, ethnically diverse city of Kirkuk and surrounding areas in the northern portion of the Task Force area of operations.
In mid-April 2003 the first contingent of the 5th Combat Communications Group communicators stepped off a C-130 on an airbase in Kirkuk, Iraq. The twelve members of this force were to bring state-of-the-art communications to this airbase held by the Iraqi government only weeks before. Only three Air Force aircraft landed previously bringing in the tanker airlift control element. Combat comm had arrived early in the fight. Kirkuk was devastated in the previous weeks by looters taking everything that could be removed. There was no electric power, running water or restrooms, and every glass window in every building was broken. With only two C-130s full of equipment this small group provided DSN, NIPRNET, and SIPRNET services to Air Force personnel. Initial services were provided in a communications cafe on the compound. The cafe instantly became the hub of activity on the base as members of every functional area flocked to the cafe. Airmen took their positions at the NIPRNET and SIPRNET consoles in order to do their work. Also early in the fight, air traffic control and landing systems flowed onto the base. Once sited, a tactical air navigation system was the first system to be set up. In a mere matter of hours the system was up and running through alignments and tests. Following soon after, an MSN-7 mobile tower was set up, providing communications capability to air traffic controllers. Finally, a TPN-19 mobile radar system was sited and installed. This was to be the first operational use of the TPN-19 as an in-route center radar system. The mission is a big change from the typical terminal approach control normally conducted with the TPN-19. In route or air center control was performed across the entire northern part of Iraq, which required the radar and air-ground radios to perform far beyond normal requirements. Kirkuk AB matured quickly the mission grew every day as northern Iraq increasingly depended on this resupply and airpower hub. The communication requirements continually grew and expanded into mission areas not traditionally provided by expeditionary communicators.