AF network techs support missions throughout East Africa

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Andrew Caya
  • Combined Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa Public Affairs
Far from camp here, U.S. service members stationed in austere conditions in forward operating areas around Africa have regular access to communications, thanks to the Tactical Networking team of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa's communications directorate.

CJTF-HOA's TACNET allows troops the ability to exchange messages in a protected medium that enables them to carry out missions all over East Africa.

TACNET technicians maintain two types of satellite global communications routers: secure and unsecured internet protocol types called "SIPR" and "NIPR."

TACNET's mission here is to create down-range communications for U.S. troops in the Horn of Africa, said TACNET technician Senior Airman Robert Morrison of Middletown, Conn. "The SIPR/NIPR Access Point Satellite, or SNAP terminal, allows for mobile use for computers and phones by U.S. personnel in their area of operation, anywhere in the world."

Morrison said without SNAP terminals, personnel cannot access their computer accounts and would need to rely on radio communications instead of phones. Wherever the troops are, they have access to the systems they need, he added, as SNAP terminals are at all forward operating bases from Africa to Afghanistan.

TACNET client U.S. Navy Lt. Jason Schechter, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3 assistant officer in charge, said SNAP is a valuable asset for maintaining communications with outlying Seabee detachments.

"It allows for secure data and voice communications over long distances, allowing us to communicate with them as if they were in an office next door," Schechter said. "The ability to instantly contact someone on the network when they are in the middle of a remote area is extremely convenient."

"Our detachments typically deploy to an area for several months to work on construction projects," Schechter added. "Constant communication is key to supporting their mission."

Master Sgt. Pete Thomann, TACNET noncommissioned officer in charge, said most technicians arrive from multiple career fields, yet are highly capable. "They have never seen a SNAP terminal before and within two weeks of boots-on-ground here they are ready to go downrange," he said.

When downrange, the technicians spend an average of four months in different countries in CJTF-HOA's area of operation, facilitating communications for civil affairs teams as well as U.S. Navy construction battalions, said Thomann.

"Within 30 minutes we can set up phone and internet access at any forward operating location," said TACNET technician Senior Airman Christopher Wood.

U.S. Army Civil Affairs Team 4905, another TACNET client supporting CJTF-HOA, operates in Ethiopia and is in constant contact with command leadership. "Communication is a challenge for us but is very important," said Army Capt. Charles Varner, CAT 4905 team leader.

"East Africa is a dynamic region and we need to be able to send and receive important updates in a secure manner."

Communication is essential for any organization to function, said Thomann. "Nobody realizes the importance of communication until it is gone."