Real change

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David Stewart
  • 71st Communications Squadron
Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, once said, "Real change requires real change." Flexibility is the key to airpower, and we're demonstrating that flexibility in amazing ways to maintain our dominance in air, space and cyber realms despite a challenging fiscal and political environment.

As I look back over my career, it's interesting to see how all the changes that have taken place in that timeframe pale in comparison to the changes facing us today. I'm excited about being part of the Air Force during these days of history-making transitions and the opportunity to work with the most innovative, professional and intelligent communications personnel in the world as we make these changes a reality.

In the communications career field, we're in middle of the most far-reaching changes since we first took responsibility for computer networks. The Air Force is consolidating 10 different networks, each owned by a separate major command, each managed and equipped differently than the others, with tangled and confusing command relationships. This collection of networks, including the network of the Air Education and Training Command, are joining together to become a single Air Force network aligned under Air Force Network Operations, a relatively new organization led by the 67th Network Warfare Wing under the 8th Air Force.

This consolidation does not simply mean moving network equipment to fewer locations for the network's sake. More significantly, it adds a cyber-warfare capability that ties together the operations, defense and attack missions under a single hat; it transforms each member of our entire communications career field into cyber warriors within one of these three mission areas. There is absolutely nothing within communications that will be outside of the cyber fence, in fact every communications Air Force Specialty Code will change to reflect the operational progression of a cyber warrior.

Some of the things we'll see at Vance Air Force Base as a result of this effort will include consolidation of our computer help desks and telephone operators at one location and decreasing the physical footprint for network and functional systems. Eventually, our network presence at the base level will consist of a handful of client support and system administrators necessary for "touch maintenance" of the local workstations and other systems required to route network traffic.

AFNetOps brings the flexibility that will enable our Air Force to continue to provide our nation with sovereign options despite the challenging environment riddled with emerging security threats and fiscal constraints. AFNetOps will redefine airpower, extend our global reach and power into the cyberspace realm by protecting, attacking and exploiting systems within cyber domains.

AETC communications squadrons are also undergoing an organizational transformation. Due to the reduced number of personnel (AETC cut 881 communications billets), the Air Force has established a two-flight communications squadron structure, which we've been directed to implement by April 1. Our office symbols will change for the majority of our squadron, but this will not have a noticeable impact on our support of the flying training mission.

There's even more; the Air Force is in the process of civilianizing communications squadrons at non-Mobility Air Force/Combat Air Force bases. AETC already cut all the communications squadrons' officer billets to pay the Program Budget Decision-720 bill, and those billets begin disappearing this year. For the 71st Communications Squadron, our commander billet goes away in the summer of 2009. As a result, the Air Force directed that civilian directors replace communications squadron commanders.

I have to admit these changes can seem a bit overwhelming, but I'm confident in our ability to meet these challenges, because of the awesome men and women in the 71st Communications Squadron who, time and again, eagerly accept change, maintain positive attitudes and demonstrate remarkable innovation and customer focus to ensure the best service possible for our wing. They will see us safely through, so we can reap the goodness that lies at the other end: unity of effort and command, synergy of network warfare, information security, Air Force-wide standards for hardware, software and tactics and reduced footprint for people, equipment and facilities.

I'm absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to lead this great squadron through this critical time. We're ensuring today's greatest Air Force remains the greatest Air Force tomorrow. We're ready for "real change."