BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
Cheering erupts around work trucks as Airmen load the beds with their tools. After almost a week of nearly 12-plus hour work days, the Airmen collectively finished their last task of the day.
“There’s nothing like this kind of job to bring folks together and to have a camaraderie and a sense of purpose and mission,” said Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Potter, 205th Engineering Installation Squadron (205th EIS) chief enlisted manager. "To see these guys hooting and hollering at the end of the day after getting the last drop in … It says, ‘Hey man, we’ve accomplished something today.’ To see that motivation from beginning to end, even after a few long days, is pretty special.”
At its largest head count, the 205th EIS team of 25 from Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City, routed and installed communication infrastructure for a hangar renovation project at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, July 8 to Aug. 17, 2018. The project included 200,000 feet of inside cabling and more than 1,000 drops, which are places where cabling was “dropped” inside the wall and turned into functional ports for telephone or internet.
The hangar, turned office, training and simulator space, will be home to 19 units, including those from the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, and ranging from civilian entities like the Civil Air Patrol to active duty Air Force units like the 460th Space Wing and even the Colorado adjutant general.
Though the 205th Airmen recently worked on-site for six weeks, the project started nearly two years ago when the squadron accepted the job in 2016.
“This has actually been a couple years in the making,” said Potter. “This is a culmination of a lot of work that has led up to actually being here and installing the equipment. There’s a lot of engineering, a lot of planning and a lot of material procurement before this.”
It all begins with the request from the customer. Phase one includes the evaluation of the request, a site survey and the development of a project package.
“The detail varies depending on the size and scope of the project,” explained Maj. Kevin Bobala, project engineer and officer in charge for the project. “When it came to the communication portion of this project, our requirements were already spelt out for us. That left us with developing the project package, which includes task instructions to install the communications, a list of materials, a timeline and the manpower requirements of the project.”
The engineers then pass the information and plans to the installations team, who reviews the project for any discrepancies or ambiguities and provides feedback to the engineering team, said Bobala. This particular project took about a year to gather and finalize the project package, which contains all of the necessary details of the project, including the installation instructions and even the number of zip ties and turns in the cable pathways.
The second phase requires a detailed verification of the materials and in-place support.
“After we finalize the package, the materials list is submitted for purchase,” continued Bobala. “We also have allied support requirements that we provide back to the customer. Those are things that need to happen before we go in for installation, for instance the cable trays (wire trays that usually hang near the ceiling that will hold, organize and route the cable pathways) have to be in place.”
After allied support is confirmed and the materials are received, the EIS team sets an arrival date and begins the installation process. After completion, the customer accepts the project, marking its completion, and returns a customer survey for the team.
“No matter the shortfalls, we’re always successful,” said Potter.
A usual project for the 205th EIS requires the team to be on-site for one or two weeks, which made this 6-week project particularly long and arduous.
“This is one of the largest projects we’ve taken on,” said Bobala. “As a single project, it embodies everything we do as far as installing communications and infrastructure. The sheer scope is overwhelming.”
The project required the team to pull cables underground, often called the outside plant, from one building into another. A room in the hangar received the cabling, which was terminated into ports, or spliced and routed throughout the building in what is called the inside plant. This process required the team to work underground in manholes, on the floor, in walls and on ladders in the ceilings.
“We were tasked with providing communication capability for the users of the building, which includes telephone service, internet service, Secret Internet Protocol Router (SIPR) Network and Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router (NIPR) Network,” said Senior Master Sgt. Dustin Mercer, 205th electronics section superintendent and project team chief.
Every wall port or network access point within the 62,663 square foot historical hangar was cabled and installed by the team.
A Precursor to Deployment
This kind of workload was spread among the Airmen who have varying levels of training and expertise, ranging from two months in the field to 38 years.
Nearly every EIS career field was represented in the team, including material management, vehicle maintenance, radio frequency transmissions, cyber transport systems, cable and antennae, communication officers and engineers, director of operations, quality assurance and air field systems.
This variance in experience and knowledge allowed Airmen to develop vital leadership skills as well as hands-on training in different career fields that they can then use in future projects, both stateside and deployed.
For Airman 1st Class Shaun Cunningham, a cable and antenna apprentice on the team, the tasks he performed were a step above those he learned in technical school just two months prior.
“There’s a little bit of trial by fire here, but its been supervised and educational,” said Cunningham. “In technical school, they give you perfect conditions. It’s, ‘here’s your chair, here’s your table, and go to work.’ There it was easy. Here, you’re working in mud, handling multiple tasks at once, and more on your toes. This project is a precursor to the actual job downrange.”
Engineering and Installation as a Commodity
There are 16 engineering and installation squadrons in the Air Force, 15 of which are Air National Guard wings and one of which is an active duty unit. All of the units provide engineering and installation of communications into permanent facilities, which can also include the removal of old communication systems and the maintenance of these systems.
Deployed, the engineering and installations mission set is used worldwide to engineer, install remove and relocate Command, Control, Communication, Computer and Intelligence information systems and infrastructure such as antennas, cabling, radios, navigational aids and meteorological equipment.
In the summer of 2016, members from the 205th were deployed to Djibouti, where they participated in the installation of a permanent radar and shelter at U.S. Navy Camp Lemonnier.
“The project was a significant accomplishment,” said Potter, who was the team chief on the project. “But since 2003, we’re a commodity now more than ever.”
Recently back from a deployment and still on regular Air and Space Expeditionary (AEF) deployment rotations, projects like this are taken on in addition to the unit’s already accepted workload, explained Potter. The unit also gets requests for forces through the Army.
“Logistically speaking, each of the nearly 30 Airmen have committed to take off work and away from their families for these 30 days,” said Mercer. “The travel and support for something this size is a tremendous undertaking. It takes a constant commitment from the entire squadron and their families.”
That commitment does not go unnoticed.
“These guys are brilliant and innovative, and they’ve come up with solutions and suggestions,” said Lt. Col. William Smith, commander of the 140th Civil Engineering Squadron, Buckley AFB. “They've improved the facility just by being here … We’re really happy to get to work with them, and I hope we get to work with them in the future. They’re a great resource – something that the Air National Guard across the board can be proud of. I cannot say enough about them.”
This particular project was estimated to cost the Air National Guard $1.5 million if they contracted the labor and materials to a commercial company, said Bradeen. Using the 205th EIS, the Guard paid $500,000 in materials plus the days and dollars to feed, house and pay the Airmen for their work, which was already in the budget for annual training.
Overall, using the Air National Guard unit for the project cost about a third of what it would have cost to contract the project out.
“This project not only supports our wing, but also several major commands, military branches and civilian entities,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Bradeen, 140th Wing plans and implementation noncommissioned officer in charge. “Using our engineering and installation squadrons is an organic solution to our needs.”
Though finished with this project, the 205th EIS team will continue to load up and complete their next mission with the same vigor as this one, wherever it may take them.
“The beat goes on,” finished Potter.