Andrews communications Airmen have global mission
by Val Gempis
Air Force News Service
4/2/2013 - JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) -- He'll be the first to admit that his job is far from easy. Maintaining highly complex, state-of-the-art cyber systems operations equipment is something Senior Airman Joseph Cline finds amazingly difficult, but one that he says has global implications.
Cline is a member of the 89th Communications Squadron at Joint Base Andrews, Md., a unit responsible for supporting a number of highly visible organizations, such as the joint chiefs of staff, the State Department, even the president. And, according to his boss, Master Sgt. Robert Jones, "he has one of the most important jobs in the Air Force."
The squadron's high frequency global communication systems is a worldwide network of 13 high-powered, high frequency radio stations that provide command and control communications between ground agencies and military aircraft and ships. The stations are positioned around the globe in North America, the Pacific and Europe.
Cline is part of a 36-member crew in one of the busiest maintenance shops in the Air Force. "It's a lot of work, but it's also exciting work," said Cline. "Here at Andrews, we can remotely control all worldwide receiving and transmitting sites, as well as maintain 16 radio consoles."
The Air Force began operating its global system in 1994, when they consolidated several high frequency networks that included the Strategic Air Command's "Giant Talk" system and the Global Command and Control System used by the remainder of the Air Force.
According to Tech. Sgt. Kimberly Derr, Andrews Net Control Station (ANCS) radio operator supervisor, there are about 60 console operators at Andrews who monitor the radios 24/7.
"They remotely control radio communications transmitted and received from 13 different locations," Derr said. "The operators report any outages to the maintenance section right across the hall."
Derr said the unit has a mission that mirrors the many missions of the Air Force overall: "They do everything from transmit emergency action messages to America's nuclear force to support space launches to provide long-range communications for Navy vessels and maritime patrol aircraft. They also provide the president and other senior leaders with vital voice and data communications."
Staff Sgt. Julian Hupp is a cyber transport systems technician who wasn't exactly sure what to expect upon his arrival to the unit. He said that each ground station consists of three sites: transmitter, receiver and control, in addition to an infrastructure of antennas, feed lines and inter-site communications - not an easy system to understand.
"I have a lot of experience on different systems from my last base, but the servers here were new to me," said Hupp. "It was really intimidating. Sometimes you don't know which way to go and it makes you very patient and innovative. But it's one of the best feelings in the world once you figure it out."
Derr said that, while most units have concrete technical orders, standards and procedures to keep their operations running, her Airmen rely on good old-fashioned knowledge and experience to get the job done. "We have no tech school or tech orders to follow that are specific to this system," said Derr. "But there's nothing they can't fix here. They always help each other, which really helps when you have to troubleshoot a system half away around the world. Every day is a training day."
Airman 1st Class Matt Laughner is a radio transmission technician that puts his job, and that of his unit, into perspective. "We remotely manage 235 global network infrastructure devices, 320 system servers and maintain more than 900 network accounts, as well as a high-frequency email configuration. We don't always see the results of our efforts and we don't know the content of the email traffic, but all I have to do is watch the news and know we make a difference." (Story and more photos at: http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123342608)