Always vigilant: Command post provides oversight, assistance

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
With her eye on one of the dozens of computer monitors in the windowless command post work center located in the basement at the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Senior Airman Sarah Myers, 99th Air Base Wing Command Post junior controller fields one of roughly 500 phone calls she normally encounters during a 12-hour shift. As Myers picks up the phone, she gazes toward the wall of binders housing checklists that help her and fellow command post controllers through any situation they might encounter.

Because the call could pertain to a hazardous chemical spill, inclement weather, an aircraft emergency or a security concern, she must be ready to effectively receive and disseminate the information to a number of base agencies. After giving her standard command post greeting, she feverishly transcribes the message emanating from the other end of the phone line - a suspicious package alert.

After gathering all of the facts, she hastily notifies an initial response team comprised of security forces, firefighters and explosive ordnance disposal technicians. Before the responders arrive on scene, Myers has already alerted the entire base populace of the package's whereabouts, ensuring Nellis Air Force Base's most precious asset - its people - steer clear of the area until the package is examined and an "all clear" message can be relayed.

The scenario above is one example of the direct impact Myers and other command post controllers have on the base's day-to-day operations, said Master Sgt. Jamone Taylor, 99th ABW Command Post NCO in charge of operations.

"All information pertaining to emergencies comes through us. Sometimes I feel like we're just as important as the fire department or security forces," Taylor said. "... because we're the installation commander's command and control communication means, as far as disseminating his guidance down to those first responders. So information comes through us, is processed here, and is disseminated down from us."

While most base personnel may only see or hear the controllers work when the 'giant voice' sounds off or the AtHoc, a web based pop up information warning system, used for mass notifications, for weather warning, or other pertinent information.

"We have 'eyes and ears' over pretty much the entire base," Taylor said. "If a situation were occurring on the flight line, we get eyes on it, track it, and feed real-time updates to the appropriate agencies. As far as AtHoc goes, we can send out 3,000 to 5,000 phone calls and texts in less than 15 minutes to notify personnel of anything that's going on around the base."

One challenge for controllers at Nellis is their extensive area of responsibility, explained Tech. Sgt. Laura Langley, 99th ABW Command Post senior controller.

"We are also the command post for Creech AFB; because we're geographically separated from them, there can sometimes be issues with communication," Langley said. "A lot of times when we call them - and it happens here at Nellis too - the person on the other end is hesitant to give us the information. Sometimes it's because they're trying to protect the privacy of the individual or they want to ensure all of the information is accurate. What they might not understand is we're asking these questions because we have to brief the wing commander and report the situation within 15 minutes [of the occurrence] to either the Air Combat Command commander, or the Chief of Staff of the Air Force."

Another challenge the command post faces, is its lack of manning. "Right now we are assigned 12 personnel. We are up and running 24/7 and need two controllers and a senior controller on shift at all times," Taylor said. "At times it gets tough, because there's always something going on, but I know how important it is that we do our job to the best of our abilities - whether that's getting out a weather warning to the flight line so they can secure the jets, or notifying security forces of a suspicious package so they can cordon the area. You never know what's going to happen when that phone rings, so we always have to be ready."

For controllers like Myers, the most satisfying part of the job is helping people; every incoming call means another chance to aid someone in need.

"If I get a phone call from someone crying on the phone trying to get ahold of a chaplain, I [connect] them," Myers said. "I feel like I've helped someone. And that's the same with providing support for the aircrews, making sure that all their items are coordinated so they can get their mission done."

Even though command post controllers may not always be thought of as key personnel, they play a vital role in ensuring the overall mission is completed as effectively and safely as possible.

"We don't have windows in our building, we're in the basement, and a lot of times, no one really knows what the command post does," Taylor said. "But when people are asleep, we're here; during the holidays, making sure that the base is safe; and if something does happen, we [are ready to] take care of it."