Three 99th Air Base Wing units recently expedited the purchase of over 300 laptops, tablets and smartphones to provide improved telework capability for nearly 17,000 active-duty and civilian personnel assigned to Nellis and Creech Air Force bases.
The decision to purchase $125,000 in additional equipment supports the global call for social distancing, but also reduces slow connectivity on the Air Force network during peak hours as many of these devices can connect through cell phone towers.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, communication is more important than ever,” said Senior Master Sgt. John Lane, 99th Communications Squadron Operations flight chief. “When we make these attempts to help people, we listen to the actual problem and start there.”
While Lane and his team requested waivers to purchase equipment outside the normal requirements, the 99th Contracting Squadron and 99th Comptroller Squadron collaborated to ensure the appropriate provisions were in place to make the purchase.
“The 99th CONS utilized special expedited contracting provisions granted by the President’s emergency declaration March 13 to purchase (the equipment) in less than one day,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Czarney, 99th CONS commander. “Doing so enhanced the safety of Airmen and civilians through social distancing with no degradation to the base’s critical mission.”
The ability to telework is dependent upon a virtual private network, which is essentially a secure portal to the Air Force network via a commercial connection. The Air Force VPN system was not designed to support the level of telework currently implemented; therefore, it can become bogged down with the volume of users online at any given time, said Lt. Col. James Harrington, 99th CS commander.
“When someone is trying to connect to the network through VPN, they typically don’t need access to everything,” said Lane. “Cell phones and tablets can use a different infrastructure that still allows access to email (and other functions), but not the entire Air Force network.”
Creating an alternative to maintain communication and some network functionality, while reducing the number of users with complete network access, should allow the system to run more efficiently, said Lane.
“There’s a significant number of network-ready devices on Nellis and Creech, but the units needed a lot more to support a teleworking program,” said Lane. “We put out a data call asking what was needed and figured out a way to make it happen.”
The 99th CS will begin distributing the procured equipment this week, said Lane.
This innovative approach enables the Nellis mission of advanced operational testing, tactics and training to continue while mitigating the spread of COVID-19.