BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS)
With hundreds of thousands of megabytes of data whizzing along miles of fiber optic wire, only stopping briefly to be digested by a network computer before blazing off to its next destination, managing this cyber domain requires a skilled team of expertly trained individuals; in the case of a deployed network, it takes two teams.
Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Communications Squadron Network Operations and Client Systems sections have the critical responsibility of ensuring that the systems required for command and control, accountability, and more are functioning properly and are adequately protected from cyber threats.
“We manage the $21 million network control center, the brain of the $84 million network,” said Master Sgt. Ernest Dinolfo, the network operations section chief. “Today, everyone relies on the network and it’s a vital piece of the mission. We use it for everything from email to mission planning. It needs to be accessible to everyone so we can do our jobs.”
Monitoring the fidelity of more than 200 specialized servers that facilitate the use of nearly 6,000 unique individual and organizational accounts keeps network operations manned almost all hours of the day. They are tasked with making sure the systems are up to date with the newest protection and operating software, sometimes a challenge in and of itself.
“I’d say one of the biggest headaches we have while deployed is getting patches to work properly,” Dinolfo explained. “Sometimes computers won’t accept them, or they will, and it will break them. That’s why we have special test systems here to vet each patch before it is pushed out to the user. Often times we even have to manually install it to an individual user system.”
When it comes to troubleshooting and assisting those individual computer systems that just won’t take an update, the client systems technicians are there.
“We are kind of like ‘Geek Squad,’” said Senior Airman Andrew Dawson, the 455th ECS Client Systems technician. “We are responsible for keeping everything from the desk to the wall working. We install all the software and make sure it runs properly.”
In addition to the computers on the network, client systems technicians also fix telecommunication devices, printers, and other hardware accessories. Since arriving in 2015, they have improved processes, updated older devices, and helped increase efficiency in units all across Bagram Airfield. While any given problem could have a simple solution, these Airmen are tied into the more intricate bigger picture.
“When I fix something, I know that it is really important. I get to see what that system does and who uses it,” Dawson said. “I know when I helped the rescue squadron I improved their response time in saving lives. I feel a direct impact to the mission and it makes me feel good.”