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Intel paints battlefield picture from windowless room

Intel paints battlefield picture from windowless roomBAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS)

In a windowless room, illuminated only by the light of computer screens, intelligence Airmen of the 455th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron paint a picture of the battlespace clear as day.

With intelligence gathered from multiple platforms, from ground forces to satellites, the unit collects, analyzes, and formulates up-to-date reports for commanders to make critical decisions where lives are sometimes on the line.

“Intelligence informs operational planning based on the commander’s needs and the particular military objective, increasing chances for success,” said Tech. Sgt. Jarom Saurey, the 455th EOSS Intelligence Flight superintendent. “Analysis reports draw on all available sources of information, including existing and newly collected material. These reports are used to inform and influence the planning staff and seek to predict the adversary’s intent.”

In order to meet this goal, Airmen from several intel Air Force specialty codes use several scientific and mathematical processes, such as using geo-locational mensuration functions, historical trend analysis, and manipulating geospatial databases. While it may sound like a Ph.D. in rocket science is needed to decipher these techniques, the 455th EOSS intelligence flight Airmen find parallels in a simpler explanation.

“A good analogy of what intel does is similar to the weather flight,” said Maj. Joseph Shupert, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing senior intelligence officer. “We are both analysts who collect and interpret data that we can’t control, determine what it means to air operations, and present the combined data and assessment to aircrews and leaders to ensure mission execution.”

However, intelligence isn’t just a one agency job. Airmen from the 455th EOSS work with other services, civilian entities, and sometimes other countries to ensure that they provide decision makers with best information available.

“As the senior Air Force intelligence element in theater, we coordinate with lateral and higher headquarters intelligence elements from our sister services, coalition partners, joint headquarters, and national-level intelligence agencies which allow us to leverage their capabilities for our intelligence requirements,” Shupert said. “The various intelligence products we create provide leaders with situational awareness that enables them to make threat-informed decisions, risk assessments, force protection measures, manning decisions and many more.”

To best accomplish their mission in the combined-intelligence stream, the intelligence flight has developed a unique set of skills.

“Our various skill levels and experiences allow us to identify opportunities to constantly improve our intelligence products,” Shupert explained. “Through this we gain ever increasing levels of expertise on the threats our Airmen face operating at Bagram and conducting missions across Afghanistan.”

From the squad leader protecting the base from the ground, to the F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots conducting strikes from the air, every mission in Afghanistan is reliant upon good, up-to-the-minute intel. The Airmen of the 455th EOSS Intelligence Flight provide this every day, even if they cannot technically “see” outside their windowless room.

OPM offers limited enrollment period for new self-plus-one option

OPM offers limited enrollment period for new self-plus-one optionJOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS)

Employees currently enrolled in self and family coverage in the Federal Employees Health Benefits programs can change to the new self-plus-one option during the Office of Personnel Management limited enrollment period open now until Feb. 29.

The self-plus-one option allows enrollees to cover themselves and one eligible family member. Eligibility for the self-plus-one option is the same as for the self and family enrollment. Eligible family members include spouses and children under age 26. A child with a mental or physical disability that existed before age 26 is also eligible for enrollment as a family member.

“This is not a second open season,” said Erica Cathro, an Air Force Personnel Center human resources specialist. “Only employees enrolled in self and family will be allowed to change to self plus one during this period. No changes in plans, option changes, or increases or other decreases will be allowed.”

Electronic enrollment systems will be available for use during this time, and employees are encouraged to make their changes electronically. They should contact their local human resources office if they experience any issues or have additional questions.

More information on the limited enrollment period for self-plus-one enrollment is available on the “Civilian Employee” homepage of the myPers website; enter self-plus-one in the search window. Individuals can also find information on this option on the Office of Personnel Management website.

For more information about Air Force personnel programs, go to the myPers website. Individuals who do not have a myPers account can request one by following the instructions on the Air Force Retirees Services website.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a drone

It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a dronePETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS)

Due to popularity and past holiday sales, the amount of drones has soared.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimated more than one million drones were sold during the year-end holiday season. With that many new drones added to existing numbers, federal, state and local officials are concerned about safety, security and privacy related to these remotely piloted aircraft.

Some of the biggest concerns are drones being used in close proximity to aircraft, personal privacy and terrorist attacks. There are numerous accounts of commercial jets reporting drones in close proximity and even accounts of explosives and radioactive material loaded into them. The overall message is to think about where the drone is flying and act accordingly.

“(Drones) are highly capable machines and can be abused. Privacy is a basic right and some people feel that their rights are being violated should the (drone) have a camera,” said Victor Duckarmenn, the 21st Space Wing Program Management Division quality assurance manager and operations security expert. “The rules are quite specific in the use of drones and permissions, certifications and registration are for the public good.”

In 2015, the FAA released rules for hobbyists operating drones. A drone must be operated within sight of the remote pilot during daylight hours. This rule allows for corrective lenses worn by the pilot, but not the cameras on the craft itself. The aircraft cannot fly higher than 400 feet in altitude and must be operated at less than 100 mph. They have to give way to all other aircraft and local air traffic control must be notified when drones are operated within 5 miles of an airport.

The rules also say operators must not fly over sensitive areas and structures, such as power facilities, prisons and water treatment plants and remain 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.

All drones that are heavier than .55 pounds must be registered and documents displayed upon request. Drones between about a half a pound and 55 pounds in weight must be registered and the FAA has a website to help in taking care of that requirement.

“The most important thing to remember is your training in safety,” Duckarmenn said. “There is available drone flight training and annual shows where you can pick up pointers from experienced flyers.”

The terrorism concerns are serious. In 2011, CNN reported that the FBI arrested a man who was trying to use a model fighter jet loaded with explosives to attack places like the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol. In another report from last year, the news network said a drone containing a small amount of radioactive cesium was found on the roof of the Japanese prime minister’s office.

More recently, the Agence France-Presse reported from the DEF CON hacker conference in Las Vegas that a demonstration showed a drone could be loaded with equipment to break into wireless networks.

“Remember the system is wireless and can be commandeered. Firmware on these devices has not evolved as much as its popularity,” Duckarmenn said.

He recommends joining local drone clubs to learn about, and stay up on, rules and to avoid making legal mistakes.

For more information, check out the FAA website or the Small UAV Coalition website.

Sesame Street supports military families in transition

Sesame Street supports military families in transitionWASHINGTON (AFNS)

Elmo, Big Bird and Abby Cadabby are teaming up with the Defense Department to support thousands of military families as they transition to civilian life, according to Transition to Veterans Program Office officials.

On Jan. 27, the Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, launched a website devoted to helping families cope with the changes associated with transitioning into civilian life, the officials said. Sesame Workshop includes several videos for children and adults, an activity book called “My Story, My Big Adventure Activity Book,” and other resources that military parents can use to help their families communicate through the transition process, the officials said.

The products are intended to increase the ability of parents to communicate with young children in age-appropriate ways and create awareness among transition service providers of the importance of including the whole family, particularly children, when addressing transitions for active duty service members, the officials said. The products are available online and will be distributed through a variety of networks where military families and children are present, both on and off military installations, the officials said.

“We are grateful to Sesame Workshop for their efforts to assist our transitioning military families,” said Susan Kelly, the director of the DOD’s Transition to Veterans Program Office. “Transitioning out of the military can be challenging for families, and we hope these products will help ease that transition.”

The DOD has worked with the Sesame Workshop in the past to use Sesame Street’s familiar characters to help preschool-aged military children understand aspects of military life, such as the deployment of a parent, moving to a new home, and the injury or even death of a parent, the officials said. Previous examples of resources that have been developed through this collaboration between the Sesame Workshop and the Department of Defense can be found through Military OneSource, the officials said

The latest collection of resources about the transition of military families comes through collaboration with the National Center for Telehealth and Technology of the Defense Centers for Excellence, along with personnel from DOD’s Transition to Veterans Program Office and the Military Community and Family Policy office, the officials said.

Focus groups

The department assisted the Sesame Workshop in conducting research on this effort by organizing focus groups in 2015 with transitioning families at installations across the nation, including Fort Riley, Kansas; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virgina; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Stewart, Georgia; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.; Joint Base Andrews, Maryland; Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina; Vandenberg AFB, California; Miramar AFB, California; Camp Pendleton, California; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, New York; the officials said.

According to the Sesame Workshop, focus group responses indicated that transition-related challenges, such as finding employment and adjusting to a change in family roles, could increase anxiety in military children, possibly resulting in academic or behavioral challenges, the officials said. The workshop’s materials emphasize communication throughout the transition process and underscore the benefits of making new friends and maintaining a positive attitude through change, the officials said.

Rosemary Williams, the deputy assistant defense secretary for military community and family policy, said the long-standing working relationship with Sesame Workshop has great benefits for military families.

“Their unique ability to translate difficult topics into language easily understood by children and trusted by their parents is most unique,” Williams said. “These fun and engaging products will only help military families as they adjust to new changes with the same resilience that marked their service to our nation.”

The products can also be found at the Sesame Street for Military Families website and through a mobile app available for Apple and Android users under the same name, the officials said.

Col. Richard Toliver: Pioneering combat pilot

Col. Richard Toliver: Pioneering combat pilotWASHINGTON (AFNS) Retired Col. Richard Toliver graduated from Tuskegee Institute University in January 1963 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering.

He began his Air Force career in February 1963 as a project engineer and completed pilot training in June 1965. He was one of the first five African American F-4 Phantom II pilots to serve under the famed Tuskegee Airman Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James.

Toliver was twice deployed during the Vietnam War and flew 446 missions and 860 combat hours in fighter jets.

During his 26 years of service, Toliver served throughout the United States, Southeast Asia, Europe, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf. He commanded a number of units and held key staff positions in major commands of the Air Force. He was a command pilot with 4,000 flying hours in the F-4, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, OT-37 Tweet, O-2 Skymaster, T-33 Shooting Star, and several civilian aircraft.

His many military decorations include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with 27 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

For Toliver’s complete Veterans in Blue profile, click here.

For information on African American History Month, click here.

Comms program hits 100,000 hours of warfighter connectivity

Comms program hits 100,000 hours of warfighter connectivityHANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS)

A program managed here to ensure warfighters can stay connected despite differing networks and austere environments recently reached a significant milestone and is also on a path to keep moving forward.

The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) program reached 100,000 combat flight hours Jan. 30. The system, which provides coalition interoperability among air, space and surface systems by forwarding and translating voice and data across disparate networks, began operating in theater in 2008.

In 2015 alone, the system flew on more than 1,500 combat missions and 21,000 combat flight hours.

“For more than seven years now, BACN has been deployed supporting warfighter critical communication needs,” said Maj. Gen. Craig Olson, the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks program executive officer. “This capability has revolutionized the way we think about communications, providing strategic agility to DOD and coalition partners through increased interoperability and range extension for ground, air and space forces.”

BACN began as an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration in 2006 to meet the challenges associated with operating in mountainous regions with limited line-of-sight, and in 2009 became a Joint Urgent Operational Need program to support Operation Enduring Freedom. It currently operates on two airborne platforms: one manned, the E-11A aircraft; and one remotely piloted, the Global Hawk Block 20s.

According to program officials, BACN provides the warfighter a high-altitude relay, providing reliable, dynamic communication links. Its myriad abilities include: an extended range of voice and tactical data networks; data exchange and translation across TDNs using various message standards and systems; voice communications interoperability between disparate radio systems; and unification of separate TDNs into a seamless, larger network.

The group operating the system in theater realizes the benefits BACN provides.

“BACN has been instrumental in extending communications and enhancing situational awareness throughout Afghanistan,” said the contracting officer’s representative for the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron. “The missions range from support for troops in contact to enabling strikes against key targets. BACN is a key part of the C2 backbone.”

They also realize the significance of the milestone.

“The entire team in country is proud to have contributed to passing the 100,000-hour milestone for the BACN program,” said the 430th EECS commander. “Having the E-11As overhead on a 24/7 basis has provided important radio bridges and datalink extensions to the warfighters on the ground and in the air. We are happy that we can support the ongoing efforts of the entire Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support missions.”

And the program office is working to ensure this support can continue. In December, they released a notice of contract action. They intend to award a sole source follow-on contract for operations and support to Northrop Grumman Corp. for operating and maintaining the BACN system payloads. The work is expected to begin in January 2017 and may continue through January 2021 in optioned intervals of no more than 12 months each. Work will include continued payload operations and maintenance, periodic software upgrades and providing spares and repair parts.

“Achieving 100,000 combat flight hours for a program with JUON origins is an incredible milestone which highlights the importance of this capability,” Olson said. “BACN has become a true force multiplier, and it is laying the foundation for the future of aerial layer networking. The BACN team and I are excited about the future of the program and we are ready to support this warfighter requirement for as long as it’s needed.”

(Editor’s note: Names from expeditionary units were not included for security reasons.)

16th CMSAF speaks with intel Airmen

16th CMSAF speaks with intel AirmenWRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS)

A former chief master sergeant of the Air Force spoke with members of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center when he visited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Jan. 29.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy told Airmen about what his career was like, what is happening with enlisted performance reports, and what the budget is looking like these days.

“I look out at you and say, ‘We’re going to be OK,’” Roy said. “We are going to have some bumps, but you are on the ground doing it every day. There are some challenges as I said, but I think we are ready for them.”

Roy gave some insight on how he got so far in his career. When speaking of his accomplishments and regrets, he mentioned that nothing he did could have been completed without his team.

“You are only one person,” he said. “You can only be successful if you have a good team. Setting the priorities up front made the world of difference in my mind. As a team, we sat down and talked about what we were going to tackle. I couldn’t have gotten where I am without the support of those around me.

“Be sure to thank someone in your life that supports what you do. Thank them for the sacrifices they make every day.”

Following his speech, Roy took some questions from the audience. He gave answers for a variety of topics, but many questions were directed toward the new EPRs.

“There are obviously a lot of changes with the evaluation system,” Roy said. “Every time you do that there is a bump.”

Despite the bumps in the system, he placed the primary importance on feedback. With well-conducted feedback, the system will take care of itself.

“Under the old system, were you getting and receiving appropriate feedback?” Roy asked. “How do you expect someone to grow if you don’t come up with a plan? You as a leader, as a supervisor, are responsible for doing that. Are you sitting down with Airmen and giving them feedback?”

He reiterated his point by pushing the idea that a relationship is what is needed to provide good, constructive feedback. A supervisor and his Airmen must have a healthy understanding of each other for the constructive part to take place.

“It is all about relationships,” Roy said. “Being a supervisor every day is all about relationships. It is not a text, not a tweet; it is face-to-face. There is nothing more important than face-to-face with Airmen.”

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