by Capt. Kinder Blacke
140th Wing Public Affairs
4/1/2015 - GREELEY, Colo. -- Four
Airmen from the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Wing here recently
received the annual Department of Defense Nuclear Command, Control, and
Communications Team Award for developing and fielding a solution to
replace a failing mission-critical system saving the Air Force more than
$10 million in potential redesign and replacement costs.
The 4-man team recognized a lack of serviceable Military Strategic and
Tactical Relay Antenna Reference Units in the United States Air Force
Supply System, which are required to successfully operate the nation's
only survivable and endurable missile warning and attack assessment
This task is conducted by the 233rd Space Warning Group's Mobile Ground
System, maintained and operated out of the Greeley Air National Guard
"After ordering multiple ARUs in 2013 and 2014, it became very apparent
that this part was in very short supply," said Senior Airman Jonathan
Smail, satellite communications technician with the 233rd Space
Communications Squadron. "As we examined the number of remaining ARUs in
the supply system and the average fail rate, we knew that something
would need to be done."
Without a serviceable ARU, the MILSTAR Communication Vehicle lacks the
proper navigational information to be able to quickly and reliably
acquire communication with the MILSTAR satellite. No replacement for the
ARU had proven effective, which left the Mobile Ground System lacking a
mission critical capability.
"As our trucks continue to age beyond their expected lifespan, we are
finding it more and more challenging to preserve the functionality of
each line replaceable unit that the truck houses," said Tech. Sgt.
Jeremy Gourd, radio frequency transmission systems craftsman, 233 SCS.
"The ARU issue emerged as one of the first we were faced with a few
years back when the supply inventories discovered we had minimal
Instead of waiting for the Air Force to remedy the situation, members of
the 233 SCS set their minds to the task of creating a work-around
solution in order to maintain mission readiness.
Tech. Sgt. Grady Murphy spearheaded the project, augmented by Staff Sgt.
Guy Winn, Gourd, and Smail, all members of 233rd SCS, Satellite
"I am most proud of the fact that when others throw their hands in the
air and walk away because the challenge seems insurmountable, our Airmen
increase their resilience, dig in their heels, and fight for
solutions," said Col. Thomas McKenna, commander of the 233rd Space
Group. "They will not quit until they have exhausted every available
resource and option at their disposal. 'Failure' is not in their
And their hard work and determination paid off because the team managed
to come up with a manual log-on procedure to be able to reliably acquire
communication with the MILSTAR satellite using only a few hundred
dollars' worth of commercial, off-the-shelf products.
"Tech. Sgt. Grady Murphy and Staff Sgt. Guy Winn were the true engineers
behind the manual log-on procedures," said Smail. "It was amazing to
watch them analyze what information the ARU provided to the terminal and
work to create manual steps to recreate what happened electronically.
That fact that they could take simple tools from a hardware store and
reproduce what a half million dollar part did is truly phenomenal."
In a nutshell, the team developed, designed, tested and implemented a
manual log-on process using $500 of COTS equipment that saved an
estimated ten million dollars in ARU re-design and replacement costs and
most importantly, saved the critical weapons system from an indefinite
amount of down time.
"I am incredibly humbled when events like this occur and I see the
brilliance of our Colorado Air National Guard technicians," said
McKenna. "Their ability to devise unique solutions to new and evolving
problems makes me sleep well at night knowing our mission will be
successful despite the challenges they will inevitably face employing
aging equipment in austere environments."
But of course every good idea needs to prove its worth, and that's a large part of how Gourd contributed to the project.
"I think it was a 'right time, right place' situation for me; I just
happened to walk in on Sergeant Murphy and Sergeant Winn plugging away
on the mathematical portion of this solution and really wanted to help,"
said Gourd, who says he was motivated by "the successful completion of
this amazing vision."
Gourd, who is a licensed electrician in Colorado, developed the tool
inventory necessary to achieve the required parameters for satellite
lock, and was also a key player in the field testing phase of their
"The Force Package (MILSTAR Flight) that I led in the annual field
training period last year was the first to bring up the truck in the
field using our method and it worked perfectly," said Gourd. "I can tell
you this; it was a fine day for the ARU team and the MILSTAR team."
Additionally, their solution was field-tested and officially approved
during U.S. Strategic Command's Global Thunder exercise in 2014,
ensuring top Air Force leadership that endurable, mission-critical
missile warning data necessary for Presidential decision making will be
provided until a replacement ARU system is eventually fielded.
As a result of this demonstration, Strategic Command's Director of C4
Systems, Kerry Kelley, Senior Executive Service, was so impressed that
she nominated the team for the NC3 TEAM Award, which is a DOD-level
award that recognizes outstanding contributions to the Nuclear Command,
Control, and Communications (NC3) community, explained McKenna.
It didn't take long for their hard work to be recognized. On Feb. 24 the
team was chosen above nine other nominees to receive the NC3 TEAM Award
at the ITW/AA Stakeholders Meeting in Colorado Springs.
"It's incredibly gratifying when our customers take the time to see the
'minor miracles' our Airmen perform in the trenches on a daily basis and
then highlight them on the biggest stages," McKenna said.
Murphy, a radio frequency transmission technician who has been in the
career field for more than 11 years, says the project took about nine
months to develop and field test.
"I was just doing my duty to maintain and operate the MILSTAR terminal,"
Murphy said when asked what motivated him to undertake this huge
All members of the team expressed feelings of honor and good fortune to
have been a part of the award-winning team, and give thanks to their
leadership in the 233rd Space Group for encouraging them along the way.
"The support that we received from our squadron- and group-level
leadership was unparalleled," said Smail. "From the very beginning, we
had their full support in trying to remedy this problem. They would make
time in their busy schedules to stop and see our progress."
The effort to maintain and sustain the aging equipment is clearly a top priority for the 233rd SG.
"We continue to face challenges on a daily basis with the sustainment of
our aging weapon system," explained McKenna. "Some of our equipment is
entering its fourth decade of service to our nation. Unfortunately,
budget cuts, sequestration, and programming complications have delayed
our critical modernization--the SBIRS Survivable Endurable
Evolution--years past the design life of our current system."
Thankfully, the determination and ingenuity of these Airmen and others
like them have enabled the 233rd Space Group to keep their systems
running beyond their life expectancies.
"Since we provide critical missile warning and nuclear detonation
detection to the Nuclear Command and Control enterprise, the actions of
our Airmen demonstrate why the Air National Guard is so essential to the
security of our nation," McKenna said.