8th Communications Squadron Airmen boost Cope Tiger 24 connectivity

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kaylin Hankerson
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Two Airmen assigned to the 8th Communications Squadron fulfilled a no-notice tasking to support and improve Cope Tiger 2024 cyber operations, March 9.

Personnel from various squadrons across the 8th Fighter Wing deployed to support the latest iteration of the tri-lateral exercise between the U.S. Air Force, Royal Thai Air Force, and the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

Designed to enhance the interoperability of the combined force, command and control communications are a crucial element of operations and virtually impossible without connectivity to a suite of different networks.

Once on the ground, the 8th FW’s CT 24 team quickly realized there were gaps in the comm support in Korat, gaps that could only be filled by the 8th CS, which knows the Wolf Pack mission best.

Staff Sgt. Natanael Garcia, 8th CS network infrastructure technician, and Tech. Sgt. Joshua McMaster, 8th CS Focal Point non-commissioned officer in charge, were equipped, trained, and ready to answer the Wolf Pack’s howl for support.

“I told my leadership: ‘Send me … I am ready,’” said McMaster. “Tron [8th CS commander] and the Chief came in, relayed that our people in Thailand need comms and that we need to ensure they have functionality on a suite of networks.”

The two Airmen had limited time to organize themselves and their equipment before moving across the theater.

“From there, we had less than 12 hours to get out the door: make sure the communications fly-away kit was good to go, pack, and get maybe 40 minutes of sleep before a 2 a.m. bus to the airport,” said McMaster.

As members of the 8th CS’ base operations and focal point section, which mainly receives and remedies trouble tickets from customers across the base, this tasking gave Garica and McMaster a more objective look and connection to how their work enables the wing’s F-16 mission.

“At previous assignments and even some days at Kunsan, it's hard to see the importance of what we do, but being this close to the mission, I have realized that I impact people's lives directly and their ability to do their jobs,” said Garcia. “The fact that we were needed, that we got on a plane and were in the country in less than 24 hours, spoke volumes to the importance of comm, and it is a rewarding feeling to know what we do truly matters.

The 8th FW executes a rigorous contingency exercise schedule each year to ensure the readiness of its members; this tasking contextualized what it meant to be a mission-ready Airmen in new ways for Garcia.

“I have spent months on [the communications fly-away kit], putting it together and taking it down, overseeing upgrades, and preventative maintenance inspections. It can be monotonous, but this tasking proved the program was ready when the Wing needed it,” Garcia continued. “We were able to deploy it and maybe five minutes later, it was providing the capabilities as intended for the mission, validating the months of grueling work, countless hours out of the purview of everyone else was for a reason.”

When asked about the squadron’s ability to generate this support for Cope Tiger, Maj. Eric Gazola, 8th CS commander, acknowledged getting his troops into place was no small feat.

“A typical short-notice combat comm deployment tasking takes 72 hours from the requirements being received to the team and equipment being pushed out the door,” said Gazola. “We were able to get our two-person team out the door with all their gear in eight hours and the team in Korat back online in less than 24. It was a herculean lift!”

As base-comm, charged to manage, operate, maintain, and provide command and control communications and computer systems for the Wolf Pack and Kusan AB’s tenant organizations, it is not often that the 8th CS receives calls like this to support.

“As an in-garrison communications squadron, we are in no way, shape, or form organized, trained, equipped, or manned to provide combat comm capabilities like this, but we were able to support through the combined effort of the whole Wolf Pack… the 8th Logistics Readiness Squadron, 8th Force Support Squadron and the 8th Comptroller Squadron in particular, and because of the caliber of our technicians,” said Gazola.

Connectivity, be it to wireless internet, unclassified or secure networks, is something that can be taken for granted at the home station, but the 8th CS’ ability to quickly resolve what could have become a mission failure is a testament to their dedication to enabling the ‘Fight Tonight’ mission no matter the location.