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Augmenting the AOR: Cable Dawgs connect service members to the fight

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Keith Robertson, Air Force Engineering and Installation, Iraq cable and antenna systems specialist, dismounts while Staff Sgt. Allen Cantrell, AF-EI equipment operator, uses a backhoe to dig a trench Aug. 28, 2018, at Camp Taji, Iraq. Robertson and Cantrell are assisting in the completion of a ‘fiber ring,’ which will provide personnel at Camp Taji faster and more secure network connections. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Stoltz)

Tech. Sgt. Keith Robertson, Air Force Engineering and Installation, Iraq cable and antenna systems specialist, dismounts while Staff Sgt. Allen Cantrell, AF-EI equipment operator, uses a backhoe to dig a trench Aug. 28, 2018, at Camp Taji, Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Stoltz)

CAMP TAJI, Iraq (AFNS) -- Communications, in some shape or form, touch every single part of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve mission. From advanced air-strike capabilities to a simple phone call home; a simple fiber cable, often less than .05 millimeters in diameter, can change a missed opportunity into a successful mission.

Much of the burden lies on various communications warfighters to maintain and troubleshoot the network. However, in order to function in the first place, the network has to be created from scratch. This is where the Air Force Engineering and Installation, Iraq team comes in.

“The AF-EI team is comprised of active-duty Soldiers and Air National Guard Airmen from Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana,” said Lt. Col. David Moss, AF-EI, Iraq commander. “This team’s mission reaches nearly every U.S. military member and coalition partner in the CJTF-OIR area of responsibility.”

Moss, a 17-year and third-generation veteran from Knoxville, Tennessee, said his team’s mission is to transition from tactical to enduring cyberspace infrastructure. This long-term change will enable the United States and coalition forces to more-effectively defeat enemy targets while ensuring a more reliable line of communications.

“The best part of my job is seeing the tangible results of the hard work this team puts in every day,” said Moss, who also serves as the commander of the Tennessee Air National Guard 241st Engineering Installation Squadron. “At any one time, we have teams engineering new cyberspace solutions, digging trenches, installing fiber, running aerial cable or installing wiring across several bases within Iraq. We stay busy, but the rewards are very satisfying.”

Unlike their other Joint Expeditionary Tasking and Individual Augmentee counterparts, the AF-EI, Iraq team deploys to comprise an entire unit while fulfilling a similar role – assisting sister-services accomplish the CJTF-OIR mission.

“It is a privilege to be part of this team of professional Airmen and Soldiers providing communication infrastructure throughout Iraq,” said Moss. “Their motivation, attitude, and desire to contribute to the mission impresses me every day. To some folks a joint, total force, and coalition structure can be intimidating, but our team members excel in this environment.”

One of the Airmen excelling in this environment is Tech. Sgt. Doug Haveman, AF-EI team chief, who manages a team of cable technician installers.

“Everyone on my team has an important role, and I rely on them,” Haveman said. “The job is incredibly fulfilling because we essentially create the backbone for the entire area of responsibility. You can’t do your job if you can’t talk to the person on the other end. Every step we take forward and every foot of cable we lay is an accomplishment.”

Haveman said prior to any project, the AF-EI team’s engineers fill an essential role by creating a ‘blueprint’ for the project. This blueprint lists the required materials and provides the installation technicians a path to completion. Furthermore, the engineers also provide consultation services and fiber repair solutions to the AOR.

According to Moss, AF-EI, Iraq has celebrated several victories recently as they have completed several high priority missions within tighter-than-normal deadlines. One project Moss highlighted was an emergency fiber repair for a medical evacuation unit, which decreased their response-time capability by more than half. Their efforts culminated in the team’s recent selection as the “Team of the Month.”

However, often with every step forward, comes a step back. While accomplishments have been prevalent recently, Haveman said there has also been a fair share of challenges for his team.

“With one of our latest projects, we have had to trench through some unfriendly ground,” said the team chief. “On the project we are working on now, the ground consists of something we call ‘fill dirt.’ While digging, the dirt we excavate is often filled with concrete, chunks of trees, shrapnel and metal. You never know what you are going to come across.”

Regardless of the potential speedbumps or 110-degree weather, Haveman, a traditional Tennessee Air National Guardsman who serves as a cable contractor as a civilian, said nothing gets in their way. He attributed their success to his and his team’s varied experience, allowing them to tear through rough terrain, conduct equipment repairs and keep the mission moving – even when they hit a roadblock.

Pushing past these roadblocks and completing the mission is more than just a job for Haveman, though. Enabling communications capability also provides a way to support the warfighters at the tip of the spear.

“It is great to see something as simple as laying fiber-optic cable make such a huge difference here,” said Haveman. “It is an amazing feeling to know with this team’s efforts, we are helping our fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms complete their mission.”

About CJTF-OIR; In conjunction with partner forces Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) defeats ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and sets conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability. For more information, visit http://www.inherentresolve.mil/.

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