Keesler's one command post has two roots

  • Published
  • By Steve Hoffmann
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Sometimes when two things come together, the resulting combination enhances and compliments the function of the other -- like peanut butter and chocolate, John Lennon and Paul McCartney and the command posts for the 81st Training Wing and the 403rd Wing.

And while the benefits of that last combination might not be as readily enjoyed by the public at large, the members of Keesler's command and control structure have certainly acquired a taste for it.

Following a mandate issued in 2007 and approval from Air Education and Training Command and Air Force Reserve Command, the two command posts, one for the 81st TRW and the other for the 403rd Wing, combined a little less than a year ago. The mandate was issued by then-Gen. Michael Moseley as a way to alleviate some of the manning constraints the command and control career field had been experiencing. Bases with multiple command posts were asked to find a way to combine.

"The command and control career field has been critically manned for a long time," said Master Sgt. Joseph Brady, 81st TRW command post superintendent. "So the idea was to share the manning provided to each base and have everyone involved in all base operations rather than assign it to a particular operation."

In Keesler's situation, the 403rd Wing specialized in flight-following operations and various other 403rd operations and the 81st TRW specialized in everything else but flight operations. In addition to the strain it placed on the manpower, it got confusing sometimes as to whom to talk to when something happened on base.

"Now, the commanders have one belly button they can talk to when they need to find out what's happening on the base," explained Brady.

"At one point, active duty manning was down to just four people trying to perform 24/7 operations," said Chief Master Sgt. Brian Harms, 403rdWing chief of command post. "That's nearly impossible."

Base command posts are responsible for up channeling and down channeling of critical information related to base operations and making sure base commanders and major commands know what  they need to know.

"Most people don't know what our job is because it's so broad," said Harms. "Basically, we're the eyes and ears of the commander. Any messages that come down from command go through us before the base commander hears about it. So it's pretty important. If we don't do our jobs, it affects the whole base."

The controllers who sit in the command post work 12-hour shifts and maintain rigorous monthly certification and testing requirements in order to do their jobs. In the past, that meant something different to the active duty, civilian or reservist as each had a special function. But now anyone who works at the Keesler command post has to be trained and certified to do everything.

"It's been a lot of familiarization training and there have been some struggles along the way," explained Harms. "But we're light years ahead of where we were a year ago."

Another benefit is that it broadens the careers of Keesler command post controllers due to the additional duties to which they're exposed.

"Before we combined, some active duty would go to another base never having talked to an aircraft before," said Harms. "Now they're getting mission monitoring experience and it really helps their careers."

According to Airman 1st Class Ronnequa Pinkney, 81st TRW command controller, most of what she's doing now involves the hurricane hunting mission. She is responsible for relaying pertinent information such as the track of the storm, when the plane is flying into the storm, how long it is in the storm and when it comes back.

Not only does she relay this information to the Air Force, but to outside agencies as well such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Hurricane Center.

Command controllers are also fully certified and trained to handle and authenticate emergency action messages that come down from Air Force headquarters or AETC as well as other classified information. They are trained and prepared to call base commanders and tell them that the base has been instructed to change its defense readiness, force protection or hurricane condition levels. All the lightning strike and weather warnings that pop up on desktop computer monitors are generated from the command post.

"It's been a fairly steep learning curve, but we've come a long way in a year," said Brady. "The working relationship has been great. There was some resistance early on, but now people are really starting to see the benefits of a single Keesler command post."