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2nd CS keeping up connections

By Hayden Froehlich 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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The phone rings, someone answers and a joyful greeting from a friend in another state comes through. They check their morning emails and learn when their next meeting will take place. They open an internet browser to read international news.

All of these are forms of communication. Nearly everyone does it every day and don’t often wonder how so much information can travel so effortlessly. Here at Barksdale Air Force Base, every electronic communication is maintained thanks to the work of the 2nd Communications Squadron.

“In order to get your job done, regardless of which work center, squadron or organization you’re a part of, you have to be able to communicate to others,” said Major Joseph Hall, 2nd CS director of operations. “Without that ability to communicate, you can’t get that job done.”

The 2nd CS plays many critical roles in the 2nd Bomb Wing’s global defense mission.

“The bomb wing’s mission is to get B-52 Stratofortress’s down the flight line and there are many steps that go into that. It’s all tied into different people being able to communicate with each other,” Hall said. “The maintainers are able to dispatch their technical officers to fix the aircraft and report when they are operational, the operations support squadron can plan a mission, and everyone can stay updated through day-to-day-email.”

The squadron is in charge of maintaining and frequently upgrading a $250 million network that connects every building on base. Each building contains a hidden communications closet with an average of $100,000 of equipment. This allows routers to connect to the internet, computers to access the ethernet and telephones to connect with each other.

“We are in a constant state of upgrade,” Hall said. “We update software on the computers to fix vulnerabilities and update configurations of network switches so that the network runs efficiently. We do that every day, piece by piece.”

One of the largest updates on the way is an upgrade to the base’s Nuclear Command and Control Communications (NC3) system, which allows the Barksdale command post to receive emergency operations messages directly from the president.

“We’re getting ready to install the first global Aircrew Strategic Network Terminal (ASNT),” Hall said. “It’s a new NC3 system to replace an aging one.”

Creating these systems with so many lines of communication requires continuing coordination with other bases.

“That’s where our job gets really interesting,” said Senior Airman Felix Martinez, 2nd CS cyber transport technician. “Not only do we have to troubleshoot on our side, but we troubleshoot from the other end to make sure we’re in sync to get a line up. We constantly have to work with people hundreds of miles away from us to make sure those nuclear messages can get through.”

The squadron’s updates include transferring analog phone lines to voice over internet protocol lines, adding new buildings into the network and running regular vulnerability scans then creating patches to fix them.

The squadron focuses on preemptive measures to handle enemies in cyberspace. However, active defense will soon be the primary objective of the squadron with the upcoming Cyber Squadron Initiative.

“We will be taking our current mission and contracting it out in five or so years. All the infrastructure work we currently do will be handled by contractors,” Hall said. “That will free up hundreds of our people to actively defend the base’s mission in cyber space.”

In the meantime, the squadron faces several challenges in its mission to keep the communications infrastructure running smoothly.

“When there’s lightning or other electrical problems, there could be a power outage which could cause a switch to fry. Those switches provide multiple people internet connection,” Martinez said. “If a power outage hits or there’s a surge, and the switch has to go down, it could cause it to fry and destroy its circuitry. That can potentially shut down the whole base.”

Despite the challenges, the Airmen of the 2nd CS feel they are up to the task.

“It’s very intense because you have a lot of things to think about at the same time. Did I secure this communications room? Did I do all the paperwork correctly for it?” Martinez said. “It’s a very stressful job but I enjoy it 100 percent because it’s exciting.”

The job of connecting every person on base with the latest technology and keeping their information safe at the same time may seem daunting but rest assured, the 2nd CS has the base covered and connected.