Airmen keep communications running in Ethiopia

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Francesca Popp
  • U.S. Central Command Air Forces
Airmen ensure all communications are operational at a remote camp bordered by grass-hut villages, a dormant volcano and packs of hyenas that roam just outside the gate.

Senior Airman Jeremy Cole and Airman 1st Class Steven Brumley are the only Air Force members assigned to Contingency Operating Location Bilate -- a fenced-in area less than a square-acre, where U.S. servicemembers and civilians support the training mission. The Airmen maintain radio, phone and Internet communications between the camp and the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa headquarters at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti -- approximately 483 miles to the northeast.

"We handle any communications issues that arise on our end," said Airman Brumley, a 19-year-old from Dunmor, Ky. "Communications are critical for keeping Djibouti up to date on our status and activities."

The communications provided by the radio maintainers support the Army's military-to-military training with the Ethiopian National Defense Force soldiers.

"As part of the mil-to-mil operations, the direct support we are receiving from the Airmen allows us to communicate here and with Djibouti," said Army 1st Lt. David Afaisen, officer in charge at Bilate. "It's critical that we have our communications up and running 100 percent of the time. We are pretty much the furthest south (Contingency Operating Location) in Ethiopia and communications are our vital link to (headquarters)."

"We operate in a command-post type position. Anything that happens with the Army is relayed through us," said Airman Cole, a 29-year-old from Elk Rapids, Mich. "We then relay the info to Djibouti and when we receive pertinent information, we pass it on to the Army."

This includes phone calls from commanders or family. Additionally, the Airmen set up and maintain 12 computer systems used for mission and morale communication. If the Internet is down or if computer issues arise, they fix the problem.

"We've had very little interruption with communication," said Lieutenant Afaisen, deployed from Guam Army National Guard's 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1-294th Infantry Battalion (Light). "We've always had primary and alternate communications up. When the Internet goes down, they're on it. They're like, 'Sir, it's going to be up in 5-10 minutes.'"

The Airmen, both on their first deployment, agree the contributions they are making to the mission don't go unnoticed.

"The little things like having e-mail and having a network connection ... are huge morale boosters," said Airman Cole, deployed from the 325th Communications Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. "It's a great feeling when (the guardsmen) come to you and they have a challenge for you. They're like, 'Can you do that for me?' I can say, 'Yes,' to them. It's just one more thing to make you smile."

In the months the Airmen have been deployed, they have learned that service rivalry is nonexistent at the camp.

"When I started working next to them (Guam Army Guardsmen), they opened up their arms and welcomed the Air Force," Airman Cole said.

Lieutenant Afaisen agreed, saying they have a lot of fun together by visiting local villages, playing sports and participating in physical training.

It's that interaction Airman Brumley said he is "proud" to be a part of.

"I was able to help by bringing these guys communications and morale while they carry out the mission here," said Airman Brumley, who is deployed from the 65th Communications Squadron, Lajes Field, Azores.

Airman Cole added, "They can come to us and ask us anything, and we will figure out a way to make it happen."

Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

Click here to view the comments/letters page