By Hayden Froehlich
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Airmen of the 2nd Communications Squadron work at their desks at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 23, 2018. The 2nd CS makes a continual effort to keep official internet pathways safe from cyber threats and running efficiently. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
Airman 1st Class Brennan Malone, 2nd Communications Squadron cyber transport technician, fine tunes phone line settings at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 23, 2018. The 2nd CS continues to support analog phone lines as they transfer them to voice over internet protocol lines. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
Airman 1st Class Brennan Malone, 2nd Communications Squadron cyber transport technician, walks past shelves of networking consoles at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 23, 2018. Central networking devices are continually updated and maintained by the 2nd CS. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
Airmen 1st Class Matthew Larkin, 2nd Communications Squadron cyber transport technician, cuts extra wire to make a loop-back testing device at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 23, 2018. The 2nd CS preforms frequent tests of systems and pathways to ensure network efficiency. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
Safety equipment hangs on the wall of the 2nd Communications Squadron infrastructure room at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 18, 2018. The safety equipment protects Airmen while they’re preforming maintenance. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
Staff Sgt. Steven Woods, 2nd Communications Squadron cyber transport supervisor, adjusts phone lines at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 18, 2018. The 2nd CS is a crucial part of maintaining rapid voice communication throughout the base. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
Airman 1st Class Dario Jones, 2nd Communications Squadron client systems technician, adds a laptop to the local domain. The 2nd CS provides information technology support and repairs for a variety of devices. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
Graphics card connects to circuitry inside a computer at the 2nd Communications Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 18, 2018. The 2nd CS helps maintain all intelligent systems on the base. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
Staff Sgt. Steven Woods 2nd Communications Squadron cyber transport supervisor, answers a phone call in the infrastructure room at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 18, 2018. The phone lines and networks provided by the 2nd CS connects every building on base to each other. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
Senior Airmen Felix Martinez, 2nd Communications Squadron cyber transport systems technician, poses for a photo at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., July 23, 2018. Airmen in the 2nd CS construct and maintain all lanes of electronic communication. (Courtesy photo by Hayden Froehlich)
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.