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Alabama ANG shows how they're a Total Force Team

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SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Thirteen members of the Alabama Air National Guard's 280th Combat Communications Squadron recently got a chance to experience AFSOC's version of the Air Force's Total Force Integration initiative. 

The opportunity came as they deployed to Afghanistan in support of a Joint Task Force operation as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The initial team of eight had their work cut out for them. An AFSOC Theater Deployable Communications-Integrated Communications Access Package, with equipment and Airmen to support it, had been deployed to the base three years earlier. While AFSOC had established a rotational cycle for the people, they had not been able to do so for the TDC/ICAP equipment because of other operational taskings. The austere Afghanistan environment had begun to take a toll on a portion of the ICAP suite. It was just a matter of time before a hard failure of the gear occurred. 

Enter the 280th CBCS, AFSOC's only Air National Guard Combat Communications Squadron and owner of 44 percent of AFSOC's deployable communications equipment. While some of the unit's equipment packages had deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the packages had been back at home station for a while and were in pristine condition. It only made sense to replace the active duty equipment package with one from the Guard. At that point, Maj. Eric Good, the squadron commander, asked if they wanted their troops to go set it up. 

"That way our people will get to use the training that they've worked so hard to accomplish, and [active duty] personnel will get a break from the constant rotations they've been doing since 2002," he said. 

The proposal was carefully considered by HQ AFSOC, as they had never replaced a complete active duty communications package with one from the Air National Guard. In the end, they decided that the proposal was worth a shot, considering the 280th's past record of excellence. 

Once on site at the undisclosed location in Afghanistan, 280th CBCS Airmen worked diligently to swap out the active duty communications package with the Guard communications package within the 24-hour authorized service interruption allotted for the operation. 

After the successful swap, the team then settled down for day-to day operations. It didn't take long for a routine to become established, but they soon realized that even the simplest job request could turn into a nightmare. "Nothing's easy in Afghanistan," became a common refrain heard among the team members. 

The base had a large number of communication organizations, each providing their own unique type of services to their customers, team members said. It's not unusual for the same warfighter to have several different units furnishing him or her essential services. 

The team made it a policy that if someone they were supporting had a comm problem, the 280th would take care of resolving that issue, no matter who provided the original service. Another obstacle the team faced was the weather. While Alabama temperatures in January are mild, the temperatures in Afghanistan were anything but mild. 

"We knew it was supposed to be cold here, but we had no idea how cold 10 degrees below zero would feel," said Master Sgt. David Chase. 

Team members also dealt with snow and ice, two other things that are not common in south Alabama. The slick conditions posed a threat to the team, which had to move equipment from the main communications hub to two outlying data nodes. But, it was moved safely. 

After five of the initial eight Airmen rotated out and were replaced by more volunteers from home station, the team members faced another difficult task. AFSOC had been seeking the right set of circumstances to pull the package back out of theater for some time, and they finally saw an opportunity. They charged the 280th with migrating services off of the TDC-ICAP package. 

"The transition to a permanent base infrastructure solution involved working closely with Army, civilian, and other special operations forces, using components and expertise from each to make the plan into reality," said Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Smith, the second rotation team leader. "We were also able to call upon an Air National Guard Engineering and Installation unit from New York for assistance while installing fiber optics during the transition. Kudos to everyone involved." 

Team members said the most rewarding thing for them was to use their training for this deployment. 

"I'm proud to have been employed in the war effort in this manner, and will gladly volunteer to deploy with members of the 280th anytime and anyplace," he added.