Friday, December 14, 2007

High-tech communications aid warfighter

BY Jacqueline R Boucher

For three years, Tobyhanna field technicians have helped improve battlefield communications by transforming Army helicopters into high-tech command and control platforms.

The Army Airborne Command and Control System (A2C2S) installed on select UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters uses command, control, communications, and computers (C4) systems to gather data while flying over combat zones. Eight depot field service representatives (FSR) maintain and support the system.

The command and control platform is a self-contained airborne command post that consists of two major components; the A- and B-kits. Depot employees started working on the B-kits in 2003.

A-kits are permanently affixed to the platforms and include antennas, power cables and attachment points for the B-kits. B-kits are removable and house a selection of voice and digital data communications package, software applications, reconfigurable and removable user stations and large common displays, intercom and encryption equipment.

While deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, the product manager for the A2C2S spoke highly of the field service representatives supporting the mission.

"Tobyhanna provides my product with outstanding field service representatives," Lt. Col. Charles Carter wrote to Col. Ron Alberto in October. "Last night General [David H.] Petraeus flew on one of his new A2C2S aircraft and absolutely loved it. Petraeus is the commander of the Multinational Force Iraq.

"Team A2C2S is very proud of this first flight and I wanted to let you know that your folks are doing a great job," the colonel said.

The FSRs provide maintenance, training and logistics support to deployed Army units.

Ralph John has worked with A2C2S since the program began. What he likes most about his job is working with the pilots, crew chiefs and system operators.

"I provide over-the-shoulder operator and maintainer sustainment training to unit and division personnel," said John, who deployed to Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division. He explained that FSRs also serve as one of the principal advisors to the commander on all A2C2S issues.

The FSRs agree that their job is rewarding and they enjoy working side-by-side with the men and women serving in the U.S. Army.

"I enjoy working in the field with the Soldiers," said Thomas Devine, who deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division.

He admits that he likes the challenge of making the system work. "There is nothing like finding a problem and fixing it," he said.

Devine works on two racks that house computers, power supplies, radios and various components that make up the A2C2S system along with three monitors. All the components can be removed from the aircraft.

"Though the system was fielded with some engineering issues, Tom excelled and continues to work them out, and has the aircraft at a 90 percent mission-capable status," said Thomas Yanochko, Tactical Operations Center (TOC) project officer here.

As the FSR in Afghanistan, Daniel Morgan provides depot-level maintenance and support while deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division.

"It's nice to hear my work helps save lives and that maybe one more Soldier will go home." Morgan said. "I try to do everything I can to support the mission."

To date Morgan's systems have had the highest operational tempo of any unit, according to Yanochko.

Participating in his second deployment this year, Jabari Grant feels Tobyhanna is supporting the A2C2S program to the fullest extent possible. He described his job as "vast levels of troubleshooting."

"I check everything from the network configuration on the router, military radio configurations to testing and basic avionics electronics," Grant said.

Long hours, hard work and dedication are keys to the team's success, according to Carter, adding that FSRs work alongside the Soldiers under difficult conditions to ensure the systems are mission ready. Carter recently returned to the United States.

"They live the command philosophy of supporting Soldiers and operate with a teamwork spirit and can-do attitude."

In 2003, James Brown was an FSR with the first A2C2S aircraft to go into Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. He's on his third tour supporting the 12th CAB.

"Travis Curtis was a driving force behind the A2C2S mission for three years," Yanochko said. "He was the lead FSR and first Tobyhanna to deploy providing Sustainment support for the mission." Curtis transferred to the TOC mission this year.

Other Tobyhanna A2C2S representatives are Edwin Bookout, John Nichols and Steven Manson.