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Airmen keep Baghdad online

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq -- Staff Sgt. Karen Riley (left) and Senior Airman Jaime Pagan configure a network server.  Both are deployed here as part of the 447th Expeditionary Communication Squadron, which is responsible for running the network control center and keeping the Air Force in Baghdad online.  Pagan is a server manager from the 33rd Combat Communications Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.  Riley is a computer maintenance technician from the 22nd Communications Squadron at McConnell AFB, Kan.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Keith Reed)

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq -- Staff Sgt. Karen Riley (left) and Senior Airman Jaime Pagan configure a network server. Both are deployed here as part of the 447th Expeditionary Communication Squadron, which is responsible for running the network control center and keeping the Air Force in Baghdad online. Pagan is a server manager from the 33rd Combat Communications Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Riley is a computer maintenance technician from the 22nd Communications Squadron at McConnell AFB, Kan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Keith Reed)

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq -- Senior Airman Jaime Pagan labels a backup compact disc for testing in his computer.   He is deployed here as part of the 447th Expeditionary Communication Squadron, which is responsible for running the network control center and keeping the Air Force in Baghdad online.  Pagan is a network server manager from the 33rd Combat Communications Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Keith Reed)

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq -- Senior Airman Jaime Pagan labels a backup compact disc for testing in his computer. He is deployed here as part of the 447th Expeditionary Communication Squadron, which is responsible for running the network control center and keeping the Air Force in Baghdad online. Pagan is a network server manager from the 33rd Combat Communications Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Keith Reed)

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq -- Staff Sgt. Karen Riley works to salvage a working hard drive to rebuild a computer by taking apart each computer to test its internal components.  When enough working components are found, she pieces together a like-new computer.  She is deployed here as part of the 447th Expeditionary Communication Squadron, which is responsible for running the network control center and keeping the Air Force in Baghdad online.  Riley is a computer maintenance technician from the 22nd Communications Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Keith Reed)

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq -- Staff Sgt. Karen Riley works to salvage a working hard drive to rebuild a computer by taking apart each computer to test its internal components. When enough working components are found, she pieces together a like-new computer. She is deployed here as part of the 447th Expeditionary Communication Squadron, which is responsible for running the network control center and keeping the Air Force in Baghdad online. Riley is a computer maintenance technician from the 22nd Communications Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Keith Reed)

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq -- Their jobs may not be highly visible, such as flying or launching aircraft, or get them media attention by standing guard under the blazing Iraqi sun.

They do, however, have an important job within the 447th Air Expeditionary Group.

“They” are members of the 447th Expeditionary Communication Squadron’s network control center and keep the Air Force in Baghdad online. And they are doing it by cobbling together a computer-network system piece by piece.

“Nearly all of our equipment has been handed down to us from bases that have closed,” said Master Sgt. Tim Rizzardo, the center’s noncommissioned officer in charge. “We don’t know the operability of the equipment when we get it; it’s just thrown in a box with ‘Baghdad’ written on it.”

Rizzardo, who is deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, said much of the equipment arrives without maintenance tags or any other documentation, which forces his maintainers to run diagnostic tests on each piece to see if it works.

When they find a broken computer, the center’s technicians take it apart to test its internal components. When enough working components are found, they piece together a “like-new” computer.

“We’re sort of like ‘MacGyver’ here,” said Capt. Denise Freimuth, commander of the squadron’s information and support flight. “Sometimes it seems like we use a stick of gum and willpower to keep things going.”

“We’re so limited in our resources that we’re happy if we can take three computers and piece one together,” Rizzardo said.

Besides piecing together computers, the center’s technicians run a very aggressive preventive-maintenance campaign to keep their customer’s systems functional.

Iraqi heat and dust are a computer’s biggest enemies here, according to Staff Sgt. Karen Riley, who is deployed from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.

“We always have to swap out hard drives and floppies,” she said. “They only survive about a week here.”

Riley and her center co-workers face the vitality of their mission philosophically.

“What’s cool is getting things that are broken to work,” she said. “It’s kind of like a doctor diagnosing a patient who is sick, then finding a cure.”

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