In today’s Air Force, communication is essential for not only winning wars but also in keeping Luke Air Force Base running smoothly.
Ten 56th Communications Squadron Airmen in the infrastructure section maintain and manage the various lines of communication of more than 5,000 users worth an estimated $24 million for the entire base populace.
“Infrastructure gives the Air Force the means to make communication possible, whether it be over the phone, through email, internet, gaining access to shared drives, servers and more,” said Senior Master Sgt. Myeshia Lee, 56th CS superintendent.
Keeping all the computers on base connected isn’t as simple as it might seem.
“We handle the communication lines that connect all of the computers together which all go into one communications closet, then into one network device,” said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Combs, 56th CS quality assurance NCO in-charge.“All of those devices connect together to what is known as an information transfer node. There are 13 ITNs on the base that we maintain.”
Infrastructure Airmen also take care of all the building switches on base.
“A switch is basically the main router or hub that all the computers in the building are connected to,” said Airman 1st Class Anthony Navarra, 56th CS network infrastructure technician. “Most buildings have one switch but can have as many as two or more, depending on how many computers are in the building. Each switch then connects to one of the 13 ITNs on base.”
To keep the switches running properly, infrastructure Airmen do preventative maintenance inspections on 370 switches annually to ensure the correct amount of ports are being used per switch, Navarra said. They also build, configure and install switches to new buildings, as well as research and submit what kind of technology is recommended for a new building.
“Most of our time is spent working on port activations, which is when we activate an Ethernet port for a user who either has a new computer they want to connect or are moving a computer from one location to another,” Navarra said.
It’s essential to keep all the computers connected because it provides the users access to the non-classified internet protocol router network, or NIPRNET, connectivity which gives them e-mail capabilities, access to the Virtual Military Personnel Flight and the Force Protection Condition, Combs said.
“We also maintain the base secret internet protocol router network, or SIPRNET, connection which uses some of the same infrastructure and tunnels across encrypted data, so all the commanders and the people who need access to the classified information are able to get access, in addition to all the encryption equipment, network infrastructure, the non-encrypted equipment and also the connections off base,” Combs said.
To ensure issues or problems are fixed right away, the Airmen have a tool called the Cisco Prime Network Control System to manage the network and also maintain devices remotely.
“Cisco Prime notifies us when there is an issue along with the exact location or origin so that we can go to the source and fix the problem,” Navarra said.
The efforts of infrastructure Airmen and the 56th CS as a whole are critical to mission success here.
“A key to mission accomplishment is command and control, and without the ability to communicate up and down the chain we have neither,” Lee said. “That is why what we do is important and essential to not only the Luke mission but the Air Force mission as well.”