Telephone switcher plugs into Iraqi air force

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jason Lake
  • 321st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Tech. Sgt. RK Stephey has seen his share of the world. In the span of two and a half years, the telephone switch manager from Misawa Air Base, Japan, has deployed to 10 countries, including his current location of Iraq.

"I've seen the world for sure," said Sergeant Stephey, who recounted his combat communication deployments to Sardinia, Spain, Germany and other places he can't mention. "There have been good ones, and there have been bad ones."

As the 321st Expeditionary Mission Support Advisory Group base transition team's communications advisor, Sergeant Stephey has been working hand in hand with his Iraqi counterparts as they set up their first Internet-based defense network system, called I3P. The 18-year Air Force veteran has been helping set up fiber-optic cables to link Taji with other nearby bases. With the end of his six-month tour around the corner, Sergeant Stephey said his deployment to Iraq has been one of the most unique of his career.

"There's no telephone switches here, so everything I do out here is new, and I've never been formally trained," said the Prescott, Ariz., native. "I deal with a lot of contractors and interface with my Iraqi counterparts on a daily basis. It's definitely a job you have to come into open-minded, otherwise you'd get buried."

Earlier in May, the Iraqi air force formally received the $1.2 million Doppler VHF Omni-directional Radio,  which Sergeant Stephey and his team coordinated with a team of experts from Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., to install. The equipment serves as a locator beacon to help aircraft find their way back to Taji during crisis situations.

"It's a redundant navigation system that tells the aircraft where it is during an emergency," he said.

Sergeant Stephey also helped integrate the airfield's lighting system and trained the Iraqi radio crews to maintain 24-hour operations.

"I've enjoyed working with the Iraqis," he said. "They've been open-minded, willing to learn, and they have a good leader who empowers his troops."

The communications non-commissioned officer is just one of nine Airmen, one Soldier and four contractors from various career fields working on Taji's base transition team.

The Detachment 1 team has advisors in supply, medical, badging, force support and civil engineering career fields working on various tasks ranging from an $11 million air traffic control tower construction project, to a $35 million long-range radar project.

"We still have a lot of work here to do," said 1st Lt. Erin Werling, the Detachment 1 base transition team deputy chief, who is deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and hails from Findlay, Ohio. "Our team has worked very hard to advise, train and assist our Iraqi partners as we prepare for end of mission. The months ahead will be difficult, but our team will get the job done."

The 321st EMSAG has five other base transition team detachments aiding Iraqis at Kirkuk, New Al-Muthana, Tirkrit , Balad and Ali bases. The teams facilitate training with firefighters, security forces, communications and other key career fields needed to sustain air base operations as American military forces depart.