SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) --
In an effort to save dollars and increase mission effectiveness, 41 students from across the Area of Responsibility, including enlisted, officers and chief warrant officers representing every service, attended two 10-day joint tactical data link courses in the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, Southwest Asia.
Data links can best be understood through an analogy to the popular gaming system, X-Box.
"If you can think of an X-box where you have someone over in Tampa who wants to see how the game is being played in Afghanistan, that connection is made through data links," said Lt. Col. Bill Polson, Joint Staff, Joint Education and Doctrine deputy director of the interoperability division and course instructor. "So, all the players over in Afghanistan, whether they are in a radio frequency, an IP connection, like basic internet, a phone connection, or a satellite connection, define an Afghanistan picture. The guys in Tampa want to see that and so we take that picture and provide it to them in both places and everyone within that tactical picture will see it as well."
Compared to the courses traditionally taught stateside, the deployed course is extremely cost efficient.
"The courses are expensive for home units so in an opportunity like this, where we are deployed, units were more than ecstatic to get their people in these courses," said Capt. Amy Meeks, 609th Air Operations Center Joint Interface Control Cell chief, deployed from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, who was behind initiating the request to have the course hosted here. "When we talk about cost effectiveness in doing it here versus home, we estimated back home, with this amount of Airmen, would cost $90,000, and we are doing at about $25,000 here."
While the Air Force alone saved $65,000, the combined savings for DOD was significant. .
"When we looked at it from our side, with all the branches, it is up over a quarter of a million dollars that is saved," said Polson, stationed at Pope Field, N.C.
Airmen from the career fields of Air Battle Managers, Air Space Command and Control, Airborne Battle Management Systems and Communications qualify to attend. From the Navy are the Operational Specialists. The Marines send their Air Defense Control Officers and Air Command and Control Officers. Finally, the Army sends their Air Defense Artillery Officers and Patriot Operators.
Because the class is only offered four to six times a year in the states, a special request must be submitted for it to be taught overseas.
"With a lot of short notice deployments, unfortunately individuals don't have enough time to do all of the courses required, as well as meet their deadlines," said Meeks. "Then, they only receive on-the-job training when they arrive out here. The problem with that is when you are teaching data links from scratch; it's a lot to take in. This (course) gives them a good foundation, so when they come in they know what we are talking about and training goes a lot quicker, which puts us in a better position operationally."
This course fills that gap and brings a joint perspective to the students, which Is not possible with on-the-job training, she added.
"Most services will give you on-the-job training or basic level of training in data links, meaning you can do data links as far as your platform and other assets within your branch," said Polson, a native of Cheraw, S.C. "What we teach is how to take that and interoperate with the other services in a joint task force type of job."
This includes planes in the sky, boots on the ground and maritime assets.
When the class began, the natural competiveness between the branches was evident.
"We have to overcome the service rivalry," said Polson. "You have to get past the fact that someone at some point has a story about how someone else messed up the link and once we get past that and realize that everyone brings a certain capability to the picture, they start to come together. And, also what it does is gives them a chance to talk to their counterparts face to face, which never really happens. Then, they begin to understand how everyone works; it really brings the group to a better understanding and so, when they go to trouble shoot data link issues, they will have a better idea of what the other side of the link may be having to work through."
Polson's students were quick to agree with him.
"I have learned a lot from the other branches," said Staff Sgt. Cherish Barthel, 609 AOC interface control technician, native of Minot, N.D. "This will allow me to help leadership make more informed decisions on how to make the air picture better. This course makes better warfighters, allowing us to recognize limitations and capabilities that we have, and can use, in different forms."