JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — Communication — whether by land line, giant voice, or land mobile radio — is essential to every installation and, ultimately, to the accomplishment of the Department of the Air Force’s mission.
To help ensure the viability of the information technology infrastructure for these systems, the Installation Support (IZ) Branch of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center visits installations as part of its management of the Basic Operations Support Information Technology (BOS-IT) portfolio.
Infrastructure assessment tours, paused due to a sharp rise in COVID-19, are expected to resume soon.
In-person assessments are essential to “accurately identify infrastructure gaps and provide requirements to optimize support,” said J. McClain, project manager at IZ.
“We operate in a very complex environment with heavy reliance on BOS-IT infrastructure, regardless of location or mission,” he said. “Funding restrictions, downsizing and the shift from traditional basic communications squadron functions to a business-centric approach have contributed significantly to the neglect of local infrastructure, effectively reducing and sometimes eliminating the eyes and ears that watch over it and the hands that tend to it.
This infrastructure includes indoor and outdoor copper and fiber optic cabling, antennas and microwave relays as well as viable, practical and required telephony, land mobile radio, giant voice and uninterruptible power supply to support BOS-IT load.
“These IAVs provide unbiased clarity and invaluable insight into the true health of the installation’s communications infrastructure,” said Master Sgt. Russell Van Houten, IZ Corporate Communications Systems Manager. “Prior to these efforts, there was no centralized knowledge of our portfolio assets. Each base competed within and across major commands for funding and technical support.
“By performing these IAVs in conjunction with facility health assessments, we are able to develop the first enterprise-wide consolidated database for the portfolio. The data we collect is objectively verified and impartially reviewed at a company level and we use this information to develop funding priorities, trend analysis and future sustainment strategies,” said Van Houten. .
The facilities that will receive the ratings are ranked using a list from worst to best, McClain said. Using the list, along with information from partner agencies and local commanders, they determine when and where IAVs are scheduled; usually in pairs at two separate locations to maximize resources. The weather can also be a deciding factor as it can be difficult and dangerous for team members to climb communication towers or inspect the basement in freezing conditions.
“AFIMSC represents a corporate view of this portfolio,” Van Houten said. “We all have technical background in this, but we are primarily responsible for determining the future BOS-IT support strategy for the Department of the Air Force. We rely on the 38th Cyberspace Engineering and Installation Group at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and the 85th Engineering Installation Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, for their specialized expertise, particularly during IAVs.
The 38th CEIG, serves as the cyberspace integrator engineering element for each facility and knows the projects and technical requirements.
“They provide crucial continuity in a high-paced, mobile environment,” McClain said. “As a source of engineering expertise and business continuity, they are in touch with existing issues, gaps and mission gaps at each site.”
They also understand issues that seriously threaten operational capability and develop plans in the form of projects to advance mission capability in the future, he added.
The 85th EIS are “equally important partners” for hands-on infrastructure inspection and technical expertise in the field, McClain said.
“They are highly trained professionals who remove layers of infrastructure to expose areas of potential risk…opening manholes, traversing vaults and underground conduits, inspecting antenna towers, poles and platforms during every assessment,” he said. “Cable Dawgs are real assets that are in high demand, so we’re very fortunate to have them as key partners for assessment initiatives.”
In summary, “the 38th CEIG engineer will be familiarized with the projects and technical requirements while the 85th EIS team will perform a hands-on physical inspection of the infrastructure,” McClain said.
“We are comparing notes (with the 38th CEIG and the 85th EIS) to determine what is, what should be, and developing a plan to get there,” Van Houten added. “It’s a real advantage for the installation because this type of expertise and comprehensive experience is not available locally and rarely in the same place at the same time, focused on the same problem.”
Visits are not considered inspections or directive in nature. Instead, “they provide realistic, actionable solutions,” Van Houten said.
Evaluations include three main elements – in brief, in brief and after action report. The after action report presents the who, what, where, when and why of the results.
Each product is published on a SharePoint site for stakeholder visibility.
“This information is readily available to the community and is an excellent source of knowledge for those who wish to benchmark problem areas from other sites and potentially initiate internal assessments within their organization,” McClain said.
Back at AFIMSC headquarters, McClain and the installation support team “compile the layers of information gathered from other IAVs and IHAs to form a complete picture of emerging issues or trends in the field” , Van Houten said. “We use this unique perspective to identify lingering issues and calibrate our strategy to tackle our most significant obstacles.”