The Washington Air National Guard’s 242nd Combat Communications Squadron put its communications capabilities to the test during a deployment exercise this spring. During a week of annual training in late April and early May, the squadron transported its people and equipment from its home base at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane to Camp Murray near Tacoma. For the 242nd, mission readiness means understanding, maintaining, and transporting a variety of sophisticated communications equipment. For its annual field training, the squadron transported its equipment from Fairchild Air Force Base to Camp Murray using three flatbed trucks.
Tech. Sgt. John Morris, a cyber transport technician who joined the 242nd following active duty service in 2015, described the flexible communications package that the squadron is able to establish in the field. He said that the package provides voice-over internet protocol (VOIP), secure internet protocol router network (NIPR) coverage, and non-secure internet protocol router (SIPR) coverage.
Airmen transport a satellite communications terminal into the field. “From there it goes to our comm tent and plugs into our external router, and from there we separate into our SIPR and NIPR networks,” Morris said. The purpose of the annual field training at Camp Murray was “making sure everything was ready to go, because we weren’t working from home station,” said Morris. “That was a challenge just to make sure we were prepared with everything we needed.”
The 242nd also set up two high frequency radio towers that provided connectivity from Camp Murray to Spokane, Washington. “Why HF is so useful is that you can send voice and data through it, so you can use it as a long-range data shot without using a satellite,” said Daniels. “It’s another way we can bring information systems to the fight.”
Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Pilik, cyber operations flight chief for the 242nd, said that through the deployment exercise, members of the squadron “identified a vast array of areas we can improve upon in the future. Personally this was the first time I had served as a team lead in an exercise and I learned a lot of future tactics I can use to improve upon my C2 skillset.”
The deployment of a flexible communications package requires a specialized division of labor among 242nd members. For example, Master Sgt. Matthew Hixson, who has served in the Washington Air National Guard since 2003, specializes in heating, ventilation and air conditioning specifically for the unit’s equipment to ensure it can operate at the right temperature. The unit even has its own power-generation systems, allowing the squadron to independently sustain communications capabilities for an extended time period, said Capt. Jonathan Daniels, the unit’s CyberSystems Flight Commander.