In the middle of the desert, sand flies around in a fury, whipped up by strong winds. Rain begins to pour down from the sky. Battling the storm, an Airman treks through the mud to connect networking cables to a server communications base. Donning goggles and gloves, the Airman works to restore a weather tracking network that just went down.
Thousands of miles away from home, Airmen from the 607th Air Control Squadron at Luke Air Force Base battled harsh conditions to get the mission done.
“This was my first deployment, and I really enjoyed it,” said Senior Airman Paul Shirk, 607th ACS cyber transport technician.
Airmen from the 607th ASC recently returned from a six-month deployment to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing in southwest Asia. There, the Airmen were responsible for maintaining the base’s network communications infrastructure.
“It was my job to maintain seven networks for the base, some of which were high priority and international,” Shirk said. “I also maintained the moral network for the base.”
On this deployment Senior Airman Zachary James, 607th ACS cyber transport systems journeyman, got the first chance to put his skills to use that he’d learned on the job.
“At the 607th, I am responsible for the tactical air operations module which is a command and control system that is used to train operators to use more advanced systems downrange,” James said. “Downrange I was responsible for the same thing, dealing with a lot of routing and switching practices, encryption and installation.”
In addition, James increased his on-the-job experience and expertise.
“While downrange, I got to branch out into a part of my career field I wasn’t experienced in,” James said. “This deployment doubled my effectiveness on the job and made me a better leader. The scope of my experience changed a lot and has added to my growth as a person and an Airman.”
The Airmen helped U.S. Army communications personnel maintain their networks as well. For the Airmen, this was a great learning experience.
“I really enjoyed working with the Army’s communications units,” James said. “It was really a broadening experience to see how other branches do what we do.”
Along with seeing how other services operate, the Airmen experienced a little culture shock. For James and Shirk, this was an eye-opening experience.
“The area was nice, but there were a lot of things going on behind the scenes,” Shirk said. “It’s kind of like going to Disneyland. You see the big, pretty castle that looks beautiful from the outside, but inside it is full of pipes and things, and there is a lot of other stuff going on. It’s not really the magical kingdom they paint it to be.”
Experiencing the local environment was like a scene out of “The Wizard of Oz” for James.
“It was a very, ‘We are not in Kansas anymore’ feeling,” James said.
On the bright side, in appreciation for their hard work, James and Shirk were both recognized by distinguished visitors and commanders for their work in providing executive communications.
The Airmen stayed busy on their off-time by exercising, playing video games and staying in contact with friends and family back home.
The best part of the deployment for them, however, was accomplishing the mission and the feeling it brought to them.
“When I first got there, I hit the ground running,” Shirk said. “There was never a dull moment. We worked long hours, but we got to fix a lot of things and you really feel accomplished in the end. We were a big part of making sure messages got where they were supposed to go, and that had an effect on every aircraft mission.”
These Airmen are glad to be home. They have left sand storms and extreme temperatures. However, their desert diaries are far from complete, as they look forward to their next deployment.