JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
When you sit down at your desk and turn on your computer, you expect the network to be up and running. When you pick up your phone, you expect there to be a dial tone. When you talk on a radio, you expect a response. These expectations are the norm because of the hard work of communications infrastructure and radio frequency transmission systems personnel who strive day in and day out to maintain the communication grid that is vital to Joint Base Charleston, from the most mundane operations, to the most critical.
The 628th Communications Squadron infrastructure and RF transmission systems flights have the responsibility of maintaining the communications cabling on the infrastructure side, along with providing maintenance and programming for all handheld and vehicle radios on the RF transmission systems side.
"We're like the phone company and the internet company," said Scott Sniegowski, 628th Communications Squadron communications infrastructure manager. "We're your internet service provider and your telephone provider for the base."
There are more than 9,000 users of the telephones and network on Joint Base Charleston. The infrastructure flight maintains all communications cabling which includes copper wiring, inside building cabling, outside building cabling, all telephone switches to include two main systems on the Weapons Station, and four main systems on the Air Base for voice systems, as well as a 400 device data network between both sides of the base for more than 200 buildings.
The infrastructure shop doesn't physically hook up your computer to the wall, but they make sure the port is available for it to be possible to have network access. The infrastructure personnel are responsible for any communication coming onto or leaving the base, including Defense Information Systems Agency communications. DISA provides, operates and assures command and control, information sharing capabilities, and a globally accessible enterprise information infrastructure in direct support to joint warfighters, national level leaders, and other mission and coalition partners across the full spectrum of operations.
"The Beaufort military installations, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, and even some circuits from Shaw Air Force Base are routed through JB Charleston and then out to the rest of the world," said Sniegowksi. "We are one of the hubs for DISA to interconnect to other bases and networks because we are one of their major core nodes."
When these systems go down, even for a short period of time, the ability for personnel to perform their duty is diminished.
"We had a lightning strike on base not long ago; took down half of the base's network, and we had no phones," said Staff Sgt. Spenser Amos, 628th Communications Squadron cyber transport systems technician. "We can normally get the problem fixed soon after there's a catastrophic failure. But the lightning strike burned up more than 180 phone system cards, so we had to wait for the replacement cards to come in which meant a delay of a day, but for something like that we can normally get things up and running in a matter of hours."
Even if the network and phones went down, there would still be the radio frequency transmission systems flight, which is responsible for deploying, sustaining, troubleshooting and repairing standard radio frequency wireless, line-of-sight, beyond line-of-sight, wideband and ground-based satellite and encryption transmission devices.
"On a day to day basis, we maintain the land mobile radio system that covers all of JB Charleston," said Senior Airman Jamel McCargo, 628th CS RF transmission systems technician.
RF transmission systems technicians program the radios and also supply first line maintenance with their biggest customers, the 628th Security Forces Squadron and the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron.
"In addition to the LMR system, a big part of our job is public address support along with equipment that is out at North Auxiliary Airfield that has to be attended to alongside the Airfield shop," said McCargo.
Having these multiple communication systems means that even when one system goes down, there are alternatives allowing Airmen to fulfill mission requirements. It's the Airmen of the infrastructure and RF transmission systems flights that keep these systems running behind the scenes, without most people realizing its happening.
"We don't interface with the customers because we're like the phone company; nobody knows we exist until it doesn't work," said Scott Sniegowski, 628th CS communications infrastructure manager. "It's hard to communicate without email and phones; it's their lifelines. It's our job to keep those things running on the back end."