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Engineering squadron keeps Air Force talking

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Heather Heiney
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
A network infrastructure is like a nervous system -- without a nervous system a body cannot receive the messages it needs to breathe, move or pump blood, and without a network infrastructure the Air Force could not receive the messages it needs to carry out its various missions.

"When you log onto your computer each morning you're under a lot of assumptions," said Lt. Col. James Newberry, 85th Engineering Installation Squadron deputy commander.

Those assumptions include the fact that the computer will have the ability to access email, the internet and network drives which are necessary to send and receive information crucial to mission completion.

"Everything hinges around data," said Colonel Newberry.

The 85th EIS, which is part of the 38th Cyberspace Engineering Group, is the only active duty command, control, communication-computer engineering and installation squadron in the Air Force. In fact, they even wired their own squadron, an old concrete missile communications squadron, with modern network infrastructure.

While there are 16 Air National Guard EI units, they are only available when funds are allocated for unit activation. This means that the 85th EIS is the only squadron consistently available for the C4 installation, engineering and maintenance that is required by the Air Force on an almost daily basis across the globe.

While the 85th EIS is based just outside of Keesler, its work is primarily done on the road at temporary duty stations and deployed locations. Therefore there is no true home station mission, so when they're home they spend duty hours training, completing additional duties and preparing equipment for the next TDY or deployment.

Colonel Newberry said that peacetime TDYs are important, not only to reduce EI costs for the Air Force, but to sharpen squadron members' skills so they are prepared for deployments where there's less room for mistakes.

Master Sgt. James Snell, noncommissioned officer in charge of project management, said that on average members of the 85th EIS are each tasked for two months of training and one six-month long deployment every two years.

"The more we get them out the door, the more we do for the Air Force said Colonel Newberry, "Our job is not to be here."

Sergeant Snell also said that on average, a person can spend 150-160 days per year away from their home base. Last year, the unit as a whole spent about 18,000 man days on the road, compared to about 19,000 spread across all 16 of the ANG units.

With combat extending for several years in many places, there's more of a need for permanent infrastructure and facilities.

Colonel Newberry explained that there is a distinct difference between combat communications and EI. Combat communications members take tactical gear and prepackaged infrastructure that are temporary and mobile and set them up at forward operating bases. Then, when the mission is complete, they pack up all the gear and take it with them.

"We take bits and pieces and customize infrastructure to match the customer's requests and the infrastructure is permanent to the life of the facility," Colonel Newberry said, "Once it's permanent, it can be maintained and will be good for years."

The 85th EIS can be broken down into four major functions -- engineering and installing cable and antenna systems, engineering and installing electronic systems, specialized engineering and roject management. The squadron is in charge of everything from installing copper wiring to supporting shuttle and rocket launches
for NASA.

While each function is very important to mission completion, Colonel Newberry said that project management and team chiefs are what keep the entire squadron running smoothly. The project management team is essentially responsible for making sure the right people, equipment and supplies are at the right place at the right time. Team chiefs take care of disciplinary actions, physical training, making sure everyone is on time, monitoring safety and much more.

Sergeant Snell said that the benefits of being a member of the 85th EIS is that he's not stuck in one place because of the frequent travel, he has opportunities to work outside the box, he gets a broad base experience, there is extra pay during TDYs and he feels a high level of job satisfaction, camaraderie and teamwork.

He said that the challenges include difficulty with married life because of members being gone frequently. Also, manning is often strained because training of new personnel is a long process.  To make it within the field, people need a high mechanical aptitude nd the ability to adapt quickly to different tasks.

Even after members of the 85th EIS make it through basic training and tech school, their training isn't complete. They must attend he 85th EIS's Community College of the Air Force accredited schoolhouse in addition to career development courses and on the job training.

While the 85th EIS is hidden nearly as well as the network wires they thread throughout a building, its services are essential to the Air Force mission.