Socially distancing while digitally connected

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs

The new normal is here. Virtual conference calls and email correspondence are leading the way in how Airmen communicate to accomplish the mission.

The 747th Communications Squadron is the human weapon system behind email, telephone calls, and mobile communication for the Air Force on Oahu and several geographically separated units in the Indo-Pacific region.

The 747th CS is taking the necessary precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by implementing social distancing, wearing face masks, and shifting schedules to remain mission ready to support their customers.

“The scope of the mission hasn’t changed, but the way we execute it has,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Grant, 747th CS commander. “It is important to note our squadron has not shut down. We have a no-fail mission providing command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence to Hickam and several GSU’s.”

Providing connectivity for customers and troubleshooting isn’t a task for the faint of heart. Airmen from the squadron are responsible for about 10,000 computers, 3,000 phones, and 450 network switches across JBPHH.

“Our Communications Focal Point and Client support shops have done an outstanding job throughout COVID-19,” said Grant. “From the start, they helped several distinguished visitors and base personnel configure their laptops for the new virtual private network client and provision their mobile devices so they could work remotely.”

747th CS Airmen remain responsible to protect the AFNET and educate customers on how to follow established requirements while using commercial software.

“We have to ensure that units have connectivity to accomplish their mission,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Hegar, 747th CS flight commander. “For example, since our mission partners are teleworking more, we expanded our bandwidth on our main Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network circuits to better accommodate the increase in traffic traversing the network.”

Despite reduced manning scheduling due to COVID-19, the squadron keeps the trouble ticket queue near single digits.

“We are responsible for troubleshooting and maintaining a $30 million network,” said Airman 1st Class Elijah Heimsoth, 747th CS network technician.

With more users using their personal computers to access their email and perform other work-related tasks from home, the 747th CS Knowledge Management team migrated several SharePoint sites to allow access from home using a common access card.

“This way, users can access the sites at home instead of requiring to be on the Air Force Network,” said Hegar.

In just a few months since work schedules were adjusted to combat COVID-19, the 747th CS Communications Security section compiled lessons learned and assisted two other communication security teams back in the continental United States.