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NEO aftermath; 379th ECS back to basics

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kylie Barrow
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing

As the hub for 70% of the network traffic for the Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, the 379th Expeditionary Communications Squadron operates and maintains that network, providing mission assurance. A key part to this, is making sure the operations aren’t interfered [with] through the Cyberspace domain.

Over 50,000 Afghanistan evacuees were brought through Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, throughout the month of August, 2021. Working day and night providing communication services across the installation during the Afghanistan evacuation operations, the 379th ECS provided the operation the capabilities needed for success.

At the beginning of the operation, processing evacuees was a critical part of the mission. The base needed to move evacuees to their next location and make space for the hundreds that arrived every day. The 379th ECS provided radios, printers, computers and a multitude of communication equipment, which was key to providing efficient support to the mission while getting evacuees processed through immigrations and onward to their next location.

They also provided Air Force network functions in austere locations as well as commercial Wi-Fi at all operating locations, not only for the evacuees but also for personnel to access biometrics scanning apps.

According to Senior Airman Jordan Potter, 379th ECS cyber transport systems technician, the most important thing is staying connected.

“Even something as simple as Wi-Fi had a huge impact because the evacuees had families back in Afghanistan and for them to be able to contact them to let them know they were safe and make sure their families were safe was important,” said Potter. “Making sure our personnel could stay connected, to be able to contact who they need to for an easy flow of communication has a direct impact on the mission.”

Following the roughly month-long non-stop increase in the operation tempo, the team realized adjustments in their current processes could be made. By focusing back on the basics and taking some of the lessons learned during the evacuation, they could implement changes into improving their operations.

“[Since the operation] there is this sense of ‘I’m not as busy right now, I feel like I should be’ amongst the Airmen after a month of pushing that hard,” said Capt. Nicholas Konishi, 379th ECS director of operations. “There was a purpose and we all felt a little more connected with the mission and now we are seeking that high in our day-to-day.”

According to Konishi, during the operations, adjustments were made to meet requirements, now that operations are back to normal, there was more time to focus on improvements.

Some of those improvements include leveraging technology to provide network services on-the-go, deterring aggressors by creating hardened infrastructure to protect from cyber security attacks, ensuring data has not been compromised and that data is readily available through computers, telephonic communications and video conferencing. Another process that is their focus is Cyber Readiness 365, a comprehensive network inspection, where practices, technology and culture are reviewed on a weekly basis and continuously improved.

“We are still deployed, but the solutions we should be thinking about are enduring versus expeditionary, which means combining that mindset and translating it to better solutions for the base.” said Konishi. “The mark that communications will leave behind as a squadron is that enduring solution. That is the way forward.”