By Brian Nestor
11th Wing Public Affairs
JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, Washington, D.C. – The 794th Communications Squadron has been working a massive upgrade to the communication infrastructure on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.
The 794th CS was activated June 15, 2020, in conjunction with the standup of the 11th Wing on JBAB as the wing prepared to take on responsibility as the host unit to the installation, a move required in the Department of Defense’s first-ever joint base service lead transfer. In October 2020, authority of the installation officially transferred from the Navy to the Air Force.
Despite minimal manning in the early stages of the squadron’s development, the communications team initiated an analysis of current capabilities and developed a roadmap for necessary upgrades to best serve the wing and approximately 70 mission partners on the installation.
Two 794th CS Airmen who have been instrumental in helping to upgrade JBAB’s communication infrastructure over the past year were Staff Sgt. Andrew Langford and Staff Sgt. Darren Watts.
“Every infrastructure upgrade is an intricate dance between operations and planning,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Elithe Zoglman, 794th CS commander. “Without the hard work and attention to detail that Staff Sgt. Langford brings to the planning and Staff Sgt. Watts brings to the execution, we'd never be able to support our customers effectively. They play a crucial role in informing me what manpower, money and time constraints will affect our ability to execute the mission. I tell them the 'what' and the 'why' of the mission, and they tell me the how.”
Simply stated, the 794th CS is responsible for providing communications services to the installation. The complexity in accomplishing that mission, however, is significant.
The unit offers individual and unit customer support, provides information technology service management functions and focuses on improvements to joint basing information enterprise service functions. All the while, the 794th CS has been leading the way with multiple upgrades and renovations to JBAB’s communications infrastructure to ensure continuation and modernization of critical IT support.
The task at hand is enormous. Each of the approximately 70 agencies on the base uses the communications infrastructure that is vital to even the most routine need like using a phone or sending an email.
While JBAB’s communication infrastructure was built to last, it still needs to be modernized.
One example of modernizing JBAB's communications infrastructure is phasing out old copper phone lines and installing Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, technology to the system’s users. As the copper phone lines are removed, thinner and faster cables made of glass will be installed.
Another essential task is connecting underground fiber optic cables to JBAB’s manhole ducts system has been a complex logistical issue for the 794th CS to overcome. The manhole duct system is how the 794th CS connects fiber optics cables to the supported location. It’s imperative to the communications infrastructure that the manhole duct system be clear and manageable to provide the best support possible to all customers on the installation.
“Once this current project we are working on is complete, we will finally have a big picture of what we have been updating from 2009 to 2021,” said Langford, 794th CS cable antenna technician. “Then we will know exactly how to run the cable from manhole to manhole, as well as (the scope of) our main distribution frames.”
That knowledge will vastly improve JBAB communications capabilities for a true 21st Century, modernized Air Force base, he added.
Langford compared the manhole duct system that houses JBAB’s communications cables to a superhighway. The roadway is the physical network paths being updated on JBAB, and the cars are the packets of information traveling through. The hidden superhighway beneath the streets can only contain a certain number wires before the "lanes" are full and congested.
Teamwork has been an essential part of the communication infrastructure upgrades at JBAB. The 794th CS had to rely on their expertise and teammate’s previous experience working on communications networks at other Air Force bases to complete many of the communications upgrades. Much of their support came from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, an Air Force-run joint installation nearby.
Having been run by the U.S. Navy since 2010, JBAB has not undergone the network management as Air Force installations typically conduct. While similar, operating and maintaining a Navy network versus an Air Force network can be
“The standardization and continuity that is usually already installed at a base have not been installed here at JBAB,” said Watts, 794th CS production manager. “We started from scratch.
The 794th CS benefited from experience of their teammates at Joint Base Andrews, which uses similar communications equipment.
“In the earlier days of standing up the 794th CS, we had little to no equipment and supplies to work on our assigned projects,” said Langford. “Some of the equipment we borrowed from the 744th CS at (Joint Base) Andrews like work trucks, cable locator’s wand, ladders, gas detectors, and numerous boxes of cables. Without the help and support from our teammates at Andrews, the 794th CS would have never been able to complete the first step in our communication infrastructure project.”
As JBAB continues to upgrade its communication infrastructure, future upgrades will include updating network switches and gaining network control of the SIPR network.
"Right now, that access is with the 744th Communication Squadron, but we are hoping to have control of our network here within the near future,” Watts elaborated. “Once that is complete we will be well on our way to having a superb communication infrastructure that any Air Force base would be proud of.”