MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
There are many distinct functions that contribute to the mission success of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and ultimately the U.S. Air Force. One of those critical capabilities is secure communications between aircraft and command nodes.
For many Airmen, communications security, and its related assets, are among some of the most critical of those functions. Buried within the 6th Operations Support Squadron is a small, six-person total force team that manages mission-critical communications, security equipment and materials for the aircraft and aircrew. Whether a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft needs to securely relay critical information to its receiver or to provide secret decode documents, the Total Force Airmen from the combat crew communications team make it happen.
Their mission is simple: to save lives and aircraft by providing flawless communications security material support and training to aircrew thus ensuring safe passage procedures through contested, or protected airspace.
“We provide secure voice communications, we maintain the key capability for aircrew to identify themselves as friendly forces, and we support aircrew with critical divert and alternate landing data through the use of flight information publications,” said Senior Master Sgt. Kenneth Evans, operations superintendent assigned to the 6th Operations Group. “The use of identification friend or foe encryption keys allow aircrew to have the ability to securely ‘squawk’ their location and status as friendly to our warfighters in the air or on the ground.”
This critical capability is vital in minimizing the threat of friendly fire and misrecognition.
The combat crew communications team is tasked to employ a myriad of measures and countermeasures to ensure the aircrew communications remain secure and out of reach from enemies who wish to impede their ability to maintain secure connection.
“What we do is crucial to operational success in a combat environment,” said Master Sgt. Karen Perrault, NCO in charge of reserve component combat crew communications assigned to the 927th Operations Support Squadron. “We help aircrew monitor where foes are utilizing electromagnetic interference equipment to degrade or limit usability of our electrical equipment.
“If those emissions were to go undetected, aircraft risk being shot down by enemy forces, subjected to friendly fire, or have their navigational equipment rendered useless.”
This specialized field of Airmen consist of a small percent of communications technicians specially trained to perform these tasks.
“These Airmen that serve in combat crew communication are absolutely essential in today’s fight,” said Lt. Col. Justin Dahman, commander of the 6th Operations Support Squadron. “The warfighters on the ground, and in the air, depend on their support.
“It is a critical component of our ability to gain and maintain air superiority and over-watch of the battlefield – lives depend on it!”
This translates into a high deployment and operations tempo; typically about 33 percent of the combat crew communication team is deployed at any given time.
Additionally, these specialists are few and in high demand.
“The combat crew communications shop is filled with Airmen from the cyber surety career field,” said Evans. “The majority of the Airmen in this specialized field are from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve components with Active Duty accounting for only about 30 percent of the community”
As a total force team these Airmen work side-by-side with no borders or labels to integrate with the warfighter ensuring the mission of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and the Department of Defense continues safely and securely.