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CAOC goes dark, EACOMS steps in

Master Sgt. Thaddaus Zeno, 609th Expeditionary Air Communications Squadron tactical transmission systems section chief, performs communication maintenance and IT infrastructure upgrades on the Combat Operations Division floor at the Combined Air Operations Center, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Sept. 28th, 2019. The CAOC relinquished air power command and control operations to the Total Force 609th Air Support Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina for a 24-hour period, allowing the 609th EACOMS to perform their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Soo Kim)

Master Sgt. Thaddaus Zeno, 609th Expeditionary Air Communications Squadron tactical transmission systems section chief, performs communication maintenance and IT infrastructure upgrades on the Combat Operations Division floor at the Combined Air Operations Center, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Sept. 28th, 2019. The CAOC relinquished air power command and control operations to the Total Force 609th Air Support Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina for a 24-hour period, allowing the 609th EACOMS to perform their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Soo Kim)

Senior Airman Gina Scalzo, 609th Expeditionary Air Communications Squadron client systems technician, performs communication maintenance and IT infrastructure upgrades on the Combat Operations Division floor at the Combined Air Operations Center, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Sept. 28th, 2019. The CAOC relinquished air power command and control operations to the Total Force 609th Air Support Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina for a 24-hour period, allowing the 609th EACOMS to perform their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Soo Kim)

Senior Airman Gina Scalzo, 609th Expeditionary Air Communications Squadron client systems technician, performs communication maintenance and IT infrastructure upgrades on the Combat Operations Division floor at the Combined Air Operations Center, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Sept. 28th, 2019. The CAOC relinquished air power command and control operations to the Total Force 609th Air Support Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina for a 24-hour period, allowing the 609th EACOMS to perform their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Soo Kim)

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --

Last month, members from the Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, historically relinquished air power command and control operations to the Total Force 609th Air Support Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina for a 24-hour period.

For the first time, a normally full and buzzing CAOC with wall-to-wall screens and rows of work stations went quiet and dark. Navigating through empty chairs and blank screens, the 609th Expeditionary Air Communications Squadron began a mission of their own.

“The original intent behind this proof of concept operation was to demonstrate the ability of coalition air forces to command and control theater air operations from somewhere other than on the ground forward,” said Lt. Col. Michael Powell, 609th EACOMS commander. “A secondary objective was to afford the opportunity for weapon system maintainers, leaders, and technicians to plan and execute a massive maintenance activity through IT infrastructure upgrades on the Combat Operations Division floor.”

Due to the maintenance being very physically intrusive across all the COD workstations, these infrastructure upgrades weren’t possible without closing down operations.

“When we got the green light to begin, those on the second level described the way we walked onto the floor was like an entire Army marching in to get the job done,” said 1st Lt. Britian Conley, 609th EACOMS plans and programs flight commander. “It would have been impossible for us to get the entire floor completed to the extent we did with operators still conducting missions from their workstations. We literally took entire systems off the desks, removed everything from the area and rebuilt the configuration. Having the floor cleared off was a key factor to our success.”

While the operators at Shaw seamlessly took over air operations command and control, the Airmen from the 609th EACOMS went to work.

“We split the squadron in half and divided into 4 teams for each shift, both day and night,” Conley said. “I have to say I was expecting some hiccups because it’s difficult to plan for everything, but the teams crushed every minute and worked extremely hard knowing the purpose of our job was far beyond just a communication maintenance effort. In total, we removed about 530 pounds of excess equipment.”

Long term, this operation allowed the 609th EACOMS to preserve the integrity of the equipment, decrease the time needed to troubleshoot issues, and prevent accidents to personnel or equipment.

“We were also able to identify ways to improve processes between our work centers,” said Tech. Sgt. Bethany Zachary, 609th EACOMS cyber transport NCO in charge. “We’re now able to look at other ways we can improve the overall health of our networks and systems to deliver strategic data to key decision makers throughout the CAOC.”

Leadership at all levels and at both locations worked together for months prior to the event to ensure this demonstration of distributed operations and infrastructure upgrade went successfully.

“The simultaneous support to the warfighting and infrastructure upgrades of that scale is unprecedented,” Powell said. “Flight commanders and flight chiefs at both locations took the intent behind the operation and planned execution to finite detail. This ensured an effective balance.”

While working under a tight deadline, the Airmen with the 609th EACOMS exceeded their own expectations.

 “Originally, we planned to complete about 60 percent of the COD floor, however, due to the Airmen’s positive and hardworking attitudes, the team completed 100 percent of the job,” Conley said. “They understood how important our part was in the entire operation and absolutely exceeded expectations.”

Overall, the entire operation was a massive success. The Total Force team at Shaw seamlessly took command and control of the air operations mission while the CAOC COD floor received vital upgrades.

“I cannot say enough about how much this operation means to the contribution of the air component to the joint fight,” Powell said. “Not only did we prove an ability to command and control air operations from anywhere on the globe, we demonstrated the versatility, competence, and motivation of the cyber and IT workforce that maintains that capability.”