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Combat Comm Airmen resume training amid HIANG ohana

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Sean Brown, a cyber security technicians assigned to the 291st Combat Communications Hawaii Air National Guard, participates in a training activity June 6, 2020, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. A team of Airmen set up a mobile training station as a means to conduct their weekend drill, without relocating to their geographically separated unit, based in Hilo. Members of the Hawaii Air National Guard have been reducing their routine travel routes as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Sean Brown, a cyber security technicians assigned to the 291st Combat Communications Hawaii Air National Guard, participates in a training activity June 6, 2020, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. A team of Airmen set up a mobile training station as a means to conduct their weekend drill, without relocating to their geographically separated unit, based in Hilo. Members of the Hawaii Air National Guard have been reducing their routine travel routes as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- Oahu residents belonging to the 291st and 292nd Combat Communications Squadrons (CBCS) experienced an unconventional drill weekend June 6-7, as their monthly training was reassigned to JBPH-H, rather than their respective units, located on neighboring islands.

Under normal circumstances, these ‘commuter’ Airmen wake up well before sunrise and are airlifted to their geographically separated units, with the 291st located at Hilo, Hawaii, and the 292nd located in Maui.
The reduction of movement was planned to reduce the potential spread of disease to other islands, which followed a three-month cessation of regularly scheduled training events.

Unlike most Hawaii Air National Guard Airmen who report to various Oahu island units for monthly training, ‘combat comm’ Airmen spend the vast majority of their careers at Geographically Separated Units, isolated from the thousands of Airmen who comprise their extended ohana.

For Master Sgt. Christopher Hipsher, a cybersecurity technician assigned to the 291st CBCS, the occasion marked an opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues who he rarely gets to catch up with, as well as network with others.

“Over the years, I’ve made a lot of friends who I’ve worked with overseas and we’ve gone through training together,” said Hipsher. “but now I get to see people who I haven’t seen for a long time. It’s also good to meet and get to know our leadership because we don’t get the chance to see them, face-to-face, too frequently.”

As communications experts, standing up an alternative training location was relatively simple, said Hipsher. The combat unit specialized in setting up communications channels in virtually any austere location assigned to them, enabling commanders and tactical-level Airmen to securely transmit information back and forth in deployed environments.

While the grounded communications teams on Oahu had to modify their usual training curriculum, which entails familiarization training of radio, satellite and other communications equipment, the Airmen were still able to set up teleconference channels, enabling them to experience live discussions, command briefings and celebrate their peers as they were promoted in real-time.

Unlike the virtual meetings that were synced across secure web-cameras to Maui and ‘The Big Island,’ the restrained movement also afforded the opportunity for CBCS Airmen to receive face-to-face services in which they don’t have normal access to.

“As a GSU, we have had a lot of challenges being so remote,” said Senior Airman Sean Brown, 291st CBCS cyber surety technician. “For example, if we need medical support, we would need to send people over to the ‘Med Group’ here, and plan an entire drill around our medical readiness needs. But with this weekend we’re fortunate to have all the support facilities within walking distance. Even when it’s something small, like getting a signature.”

Both the 291st and 292nd CBCSs are postured for rapid deployment so command and control and communications capabilities can be set up in forward-operating bases under short notice. With a chain of islands susceptible to a myriad of disasters, along with a network of state partners, communication resources have also been applied to humanitarian and natural-disaster scenarios at home and abroad.

With a broad spectrum of capabilities that are needed in domestic and overseas operations, much of combat comms’ effectiveness is attributed to their regularly scheduled drills, whether they’re held at neighboring islands or alongside the rest of the HIANG’ ohana at JBPH-H.

“I’m really grateful that my family supports me every time I report for drill,” said Staff Sgt. Paquito Jardinaso, 292nd CBCS cyber transport technician. “They understand why I joined and how important my mission is every time I commute to my unit for drill weekend. No, I won’t be bringing back donuts from the outer islands, like I normally do, but it’s much nicer to spend more quality time with them instead.”

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