|Executive Travel Team Provides Power of Communication |
Executive Travel Team Provides Power of Communication
By Tech. Sgt. Mona Ferrell, Air Force Pentagon Communications Agency Public Affairs.
Washington D.C. -- March 7, 2001 (APFN) -- On Monday, "these modern-day McGyvers" may be on a plane destined for Zagreb, Croatia. Tuesday might find them in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Master Sgt. Duane Pico, superintendent of communications for the Air Force Pentagon Communications Agency Executive Travel Team, completes maintenance on a cellular secure telephone unit case before deploying on a temporary duty assignment.
It is all part of the job for being on the executive travel team. The team provide communications support to the Defense Department's top four leaders anytime they leave Washington.
Like television's McGyver, they must know how to get out of a tight spot, too. But instead of a pocketknife, they use laptop computers, satellite radios, power supplies and the latest communications technology to turn almost any area into a secure communications center.
Keeping the secretary of defense and Joint Chiefs "connected" around the clock is a serious job, said Senior Master Sgt. Richard Davis. He's the executive travel director for the Air Force Pentagon Communications Agency's executive travel communications directorate.
"Our job is to ensure any type of electronic communication available to them at their desk, can also be at their fingertips while traveling," Davis said.
That takes more than just hooking up a printer and a laptop, he said.
"If the secretary of defense is in the Middle East and needs to call back to Washington, we can't just hand him an unsecured telephone line," Davis said.
The team must ensure secure voice, voice recognition quality and high-speed data communications between the National Command Authorities is available within 15 minutes of a request.
Providing that kind of on-the-spot support means travel team members must know their jobs well and those of their co-workers. The team has 24 people in seven Air Force specialty codes. All are interwined.
"A person in a computer-related AFSC must also know how to hook up a secure telephone line," he said.
That creates a learning curve for new team members. They must realize they have to do other jobs fast, said Tech. Sgt. Tom Vera, executive travel communications team chief for the office of secretary of defense.
"We don't have the luxury of saying 'that's not my AFSC,'" Vera said. "We must be able to improvise at a moment's notice."
Still, raising their knowledge, while adapting to customer's "idiosyncrasies" is always a challenge, he said. "But it's one we relish."
Team members do not work a nine-to-five job. They are often on the road. But at the end of the day they get great job satisfaction, Vera said.
"When the secretary of defense needs a secure communication line and leaves with a smile -- it's a great feeling," he said. A "firewall five" on a customer feedback only enhances the feeling. "That means we did our job well."
The team's dedication is not only valuable, but required, said Maj. Joe Wassel, military assistant to the secretary of defense for communications.
"There isn't a computer store on every street corner in Istanbul (Turkey)," Wassel said. "And if we have communications problems in Tokyo at 3 a.m., we can't just run out and get whatever's needed to fix it."
That is why team members must think ahead, and "outside the box," and ensure they pack what they might need. They are magicians sometimes, he said.
Every overseas trip is an event in itself. From the moment, for example, that the defense secretary departs Andrews Air Force Base, Md., until he returns, the team could move 2,000 pages of classified documents. They could have done 100 telephone patches, supported 35 cellular phones and 84 movements in seven hotels.
"It's a Super Bowl-level challenge," Wassel said.
Meeting challenges has earned the team the respect of its customers, that's paramount, said Tech. Sgt. William Hawkins, deputy communications adviser for the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff. He said real-time communications for the top military leaders is critical.
So there must be "absolute confidence and trust" in the people who provide the communications capability, he said.
The team's reliability and professionalism doesn't go unnoticed, Wassel said.
"The secretary gets to know their faces," he said. "They're allowed in the inner circle so they can make communications happen."