Airmen discuss one of the little-known best jobs in Air Force

  • Published
  • By Cheryl Pellerin
  • DOD News, Defense Media Activity
If you’re an Airman with technical skills, an outstanding performer who always meets physical training standards and has completed all military and other education requirements, the 844th Communications Squadron may have a job for you.

The jobs themselves vary, but all involve working as part of the executive travel communications teams for the secretary and deputy secretary of defense, chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force.

The work is tough, the training technical, the standards stringent and the travel is plentiful, with about 60 to 120 non-consecutive travel days a year, according to Airmen now doing the four-year controlled tour.

One of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s travel team members is Staff Sgt. Cody Corley, who’s part of the team’s Residential Command Post, or RCP, section.

Corley’s job is to stay close to the defense secretary -- no more than two minutes or two doors away at any given time -- to ensure that the secretary has nearly instant access to whatever he needs to communicate anywhere in the world 24/7.

The six phones, printer-scanners and other communications devices that Corley carries in two bags and a hard case are state of the art, and the former radio-frequency transmissions specialist has been trained to use them.

He also has a special appreciation for the less technical aspects of the work.

“A lot of jobs leave you wondering, ‘What is my mission? What is my impact on the big Air Force?’” he said during a recent DOD News interview. “But I can tell you (that during the Jan. 12 capture of U.S. Sailors by Iran), when you hand that phone over and the secretary is making plans to help those guys out, you see firsthand the impact you had.”

Executive travel communication

Corley, like everyone else in the RCP job, first spent three years as a member of the secretary’s Executive Travel Communications team. Tech. Sgt. Glenn D. Andrews Jr. is a team chief now with the secretary’s travel team.

Andrews and fellow team members travel with Carter on his military aircraft during domestic or international trips to prep, test and transport a range of communications equipment from the plane, and to and from each hotel in every state or country the secretary and his delegation visit.

On the plane his team provides the secretary and his immediate staff with everything they need for secret and top-secret communications, including secure phones, computers, Wi-Fi, scanners, and printers.

“Once we get (to a location) we take whatever gear we have and all the luggage off the aircraft and convoy or motorcade to the hotel,” he said, where a two- or three-member advance team will have done initial preparations for rooms for the secretary and his delegation, and for comms and security rooms.

In the comms room, he explained, the team sets up more communications gear, including laptops, secure video teleconferencing equipment, shielded tents for secure comms, scanners, printers and other devices.

All team members are trained to the same standard, Andrews said, and over time, and after receiving technical certifications, they advance from team member to site lead, managing small teams at advance sites, and then to mission lead, which is Andrews’ role now.

In that job he oversees operations at each location during the secretary’s entire trip.

“I like the job,” he said. “It's been a very rewarding experience. I've been here five and a half years now. It's a four-year tour for us and I like it so much I’ve extended two more years. We get to see a lot of interesting places that we wouldn't get to see otherwise.”

The travel team for the chairman/vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is also part of the 844th CS.

CJCS travel team

The job description for this travel team is drier than the actual experiences of those who lead and execute the mission.

“Member deploys to locations worldwide providing a full-spectrum of aircraft and ground communication packages to include secure and non-secure voice, video, data and satellite network services,” the job description reads.

On this team, Tech. Sgt. Ben Davis is a communications team leader.

“I provide executive travel communication to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the vice chairman,” he said. “Anytime they're outside the National Capital Region at least one of us is with them to provide communications at the highest level.”

He added, “We use commercial off-the-shelf equipment so we're always looking for the newer, lighter, faster equipment so we're not pigeonholed by anything that's specifically military.”

As on the defense secretary’s executive travel team, CJCS travel team members all are trained to the same standard. Within the team, the three positions are and progress from team member to site lead to mission lead roles.

The chairman’s team also supports the Air Force secretary and Air Force chief of staff, and Master Sgt. Josh Wessling leads those missions when they travel outside the National Capital Region.

“In addition to providing that secure and non-secure voice, video and data reach-back to the Pentagon, we're also responsible for logistics on the ground -- equipment, movement, room check-in and checkout, luggage bag drags, all the logistics that enable the principals, the CSAF and his staff, to engage in their official itinerary,” Wessling said.

“We’re basically the brains of the operation behind the scenes,” he added, noting, “I'm personally in charge of making sure that (Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III), while he's on the ground, has anything and everything he needs to communicate back to the Pentagon … at any time of day or night.”

Tech. Sgt. Richard Carter is also part of the CJCS travel team.

“I'm the low man on the totem pole,” he said. “I’m still in my training mode for site lead and mission lead, so if I go on a trip with Sgt. Davis, he's the site lead and I'm the team member.”

On the team’s training process, Wessling said, “Roughly a year and a half into your four-year tour we're going to expect you to be fully qualified, and when and if the opportunity presents itself, for you to step into a team chief slot, giving you approximately two years to serve as a mission lead team chief.”

When the team thinks about hiring, Wessling said they review applicants’ performance reports to look for outstanding performers, they check PT scores to make sure they can physically perform, and they look at military records to make sure applicants hold all required professional military and other education credentials.

Airmen who succeed in the job usually have certain personality traits, Davis said.

“Some people get nervous when they’re looking people who control the military in the face and they're asking you questions directly, sometimes not in a very good mood. You need to have a distinct personality to be able handle that,” he added.

Airmen can find ads for these jobs in the Air Force Assignment Management Systems and Wessling said there are financial benefits for team members supporting the secretary and other leaders.

“Civilian clothing allowances, extra money to wear a suit and tie on the road, and we get special-duty pay … as a way of saying what (team members) are doing is above and beyond your normal Air Force responsibilities,” he said.

On top of their base pay, Wessling said team members get $75 a month, site leads get $150 a month and mission leads get $225 a month.

“So when we all leave here we're taking a huge pay cut to go back to the Air Force,” he said. “But you're going back a better leader and a better Airman, for sure.”