Operational cyber warriors maintain information systems

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs


5/9/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — For more than a decade, U.S. servicemembers deploy in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM with troops completing their mission on the ground, by sea and in the air.

Airmen from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing can’t support these operations without the information provided by the RC-135V/W Rivet Joint and the Airmen who maintain its information systems. Since joining the 379th in August 2003, these specialists, assigned to the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, are known as electronic warfare maintainers.

“It’s very rewarding to know the system you maintain may save someone’s life,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Sequin, 763rd ERS electronic warfare maintenance NCO in charge.

These technicians are unlike what people typically refer to as maintainers. Deployed from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., Sequin and his crew are assigned to an operations squadron, while their counterparts are generally assigned to a maintenance squadron. Maintained operationally since January 1964, these technicians instead of working directly on the aircraft’s mechanical parts, they sustain the information systems on board.

As with most computer equipment, the systems on board this 135-foot-long airframe must be cooled before their maintainers can begin their diagnostics and complete their checklists. Air conditioners are placed outside the aircraft with large yellow tubes connected to ports on the sides and underneath, pumping 40-degree-temperature air into the jet to ensure the computers, which generate a substantial amount of their own heat, maintain an average of 75 degrees.

“This is very important,” said Senior Airman Thomas Toy, 763rd ERS electronic warfare maintainer. “After the jet is adequately cooled, we insert the hard drives in their bays and start the main processing unit and temperature monitor.”

With miles of wires and networking cables running from tip to tail, the RC-135 is key to air superiority and finds its home here with the 379th AEW. This airframe is the 379th’s primary intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform; picking up real-time information on the coalition’s enemies.

“Air crews have told us before that lives would have been lost if our systems weren’t performing as they should, that we would not have collected all the necessary information that saved a convoy or prevented an ambush,” said Senior Airman Ross Lemp, electronic warfare maintainer.

RC-135s supported operations in Vietnam, Operation EL DORADO CANYON in the Mediterranean, Operation URGENT FURY in Grenada, and Operation JUST CAUSE in Panama. The Rivet Joint has maintained a constant presence in Southwest Asia since August 1990 supporting operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM. More recently, RC-135s also supported Operation ALLIED FORCE in Kosovo and Operation ODYSSEY DAWN/UNIFIED PROTECTOR in Libya.

“Our information systems maintainers are absolutely critical to this platform – our jets don’t fly without their support,” said Lt. Col. Sean Coveney, 763rd ERS commander. “Everything they do keeps the mission going. These cyber warriors maintain an intelligence collection platform critical in specialty to the Air Force and DoD.”

All RC-135s are assigned to Air Combat Command permanently based at Offutt AFB and are operated by the 55th Wing using various forward deployment locations worldwide.

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