by SrA Brian Jarvis
129th Rescue Wing
8/1/2015 - MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- Just
as one upgrades to a new cell phone, the military often has to upgrade
its communications systems. Only in this case, "upgrading" antenna
towers as high as 120 feet is a considerably greater chore.
For this purpose, the California Air National Guard journeyed to Lajes
Air Base in the Azores, Portugal, tasked to remove three antenna towers
and ensure they were properly decommissioned.
Senior Master Sgt. David Solis, who led the mission, said it brought
together airmen from every corner of California, including his own 129th
Communications Flight as well as the 144th Communications Flight, the
146th Communications Flight, the 147th Combat Communications Squadron,
the 149th Combat Communications Squadron, and the 222nd Communications
"The common misconception is that we sit behind a desk. But 'comm'
people are extremely innovative and by virtue are some of the sharpest
tools when it comes to the arsenal of tools the Air Force has," Solis
said. "Their collective experience on both the military and civilian
side is what made this mission successful, and bar none I would go to
war with any one of these individuals."
The process of removing a tower step-by-step required a team effort of
blow-torching metal foundations, unbolting plates, and cutting wires one
at a time to ensure the tower falls in a straight line and in the right
147th Communications Flight Master Sgt. and first sergeant Jerome Thomas
said that logistics and flexibility were key to the mission, such as
when a crane didn't fit size restrictions, leaving the airmen with no
choice but to free-fall a tower to the ground instead.
"This is the first time I've worked in unison with other wings, and it's
a great experience mixing together and learning who each other is,"
Thomas said. "Each person is integral in what they do and brings
something to the table. Everyone is counted on in comm."
Once antenna towers are decommissioned, they are typically made
available for purchase from the general public for scrap metal or
commercial purposes via the Defense Reutilization Marketing Office.
On the training side, Guardsmen instructed Lajes Air Base's 65th
Communication Squadron on proper technique for safely climbing up and
rappelling down from antenna towers, as well as how to inspect equipment
and rescue someone who's hurt.
Overall, five airmen became certified in tower climbing while 17
received instruction that will help them prepare both for a potential
deployment or a compliance inspection.
"We remained professional and focused on the mission at hand," said
129th communication technician Tech. Sgt. Garrison O. Simpson, who led
the instruction. "When you teach, you learn more, so through my teaching
I strengthened my own background in tower equipment. I was proud to
Also accompanying the mission to provide support and train with their
active-duty counterparts was the 129th Security Forces and the 129th
Logistics Readiness Squadron.
"We were able to conduct an assessment to help them prepare for an
upcoming inspection, and we were able to trade learning tools that we
can bring back home," said Master Sgt. Michael Conner, a unit training
manager with 129th Security Forces. "Overall they seemed pretty
For Airman 1st Class Alexis Schneider, who recently joined the 129th
Logistics Readiness Squadron, the mission provided a chance to see how
her unit operates in the field.
"I learned new info that I can bring back to the base and got some
really good insights," Schneider said. "I bonded with the airmen from my
base and had never worked with other sections before, so I got to see
what they do and work as a team."
Given that Lajes Air Base is preparing to undergo a draw-down from
roughly 300 full-time personnel to about a third that size, Solis said
there could be a chance to further assist their active-duty down the
"They're about to experience what the Guard experiences every day, so we
have a unique opportunity here to advise the active duty on the
challenges that we face as Guardsmen," Solis said. "I'm happy to report
that I'm thoroughly impressed with the capabilities of the people that
I'm working with here, and this mission has reset my expectations of the