by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen
432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
8/21/2015 - CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada -- Imagine
a wire entangled room laden with the sound of humming computer drives,
or a crowded air-conditioned ground control station dimly lit by the
glow of computer screens. In these locations one might also find Airmen
of the 432nd Aircraft Communications Maintenance Squadron attending to
one of the many antennas strung throughout the base.
These Airmen are part of approximately 130 Air Force members at Creech
Air Force Base, Nevada who make the remotely piloted aircraft enterprise
mission possible every day through their communication maintenance.
In a world where cockpits aren't in the plane, these traditional
communications Airmen are put in a maintenance environment to link the
ground control station, aka "the RPA cockpit" to the aircraft. This
capability allows the pilot and sensor operator to control the plane
both locally and thousands of miles away, in an effort to provide the
necessary intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance so desperately
needed by combatant commanders of the joint U.S. forces and its allies.
"Essentially we maintain all the communications equipment such as the
antennas, ground data terminals, relays, and links needed to fly an
RPA," said Airman 1st Class Tyler Hosler, 432nd ACMS RPA satellite
communications technician. "We also troubleshoot communication issues if
When an RPA flies, it's first controlled by the pilots via
line-of-sight. Once the aircraft reaches a certain altitude the ACMS
passes it to a satellite link allowing the air crew to fly in worldwide
areas of responsibility, 24/7. In addition to the aircrew and
maintenance personnel, ACMS maintainers are required to synchronize all
the moving parts so RPAs are able to fly.
The Airmen of the ACMS make fighting the war and saving lives possible every day.
While not unusual to see traditional cyber trained Airmen at other RPA
locations maintaining GCSs, the ACMS is the only unit in the Air Force
where communications Airmen have step beyond their traditional Air Force
Specialty Code responsibilities to fully maintain the entire
communications network of the RPA enterprise.
"There is no other unit in the Air Force that does what we do," said
Maj. Raymond Chester, 432nd ACMS commander. "Not only do we maintain
the GCSs here at Creech used for combat across the globe, we also
maintain local GCSs used in the formal training unit here to teach
launch and recovery and train our operators."
This unique unit isn't just part of a seemingly ubiquitous mission; ACMS
Airmen are paving the way to the future of RPA communications support
while setting the foundation for the new era every day.
"Our Airmen were previously assigned to the flying squadrons and then
maintenance before the ACMS stood up in 2011," said Master Sgt. William
Quinn, 432nd ACMS lead production superintendent.
In addition to being a special breed of Airmen, there is no official
training school for cyber Airmen to prepare to do the RPA mission at
"We're made up of radar frequencies and cyber transport Airmen, but
because of what we do here, the training we received in school doesn't
really apply at Creech," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Wellens, 432nd ACMS RPA
communications technician. "Everything we do is learned through
on-the-job training which can be a difficult transition especially for
those who have been to other bases."
The challenging feelings are shared by Airmen of all rank and skill levels.
"It's definitely a steep learning curve for everyone," said 1st Lt.
Joyce Jackson, 432nd ACMS systems maintenance unit officer -in- charge.
"These Airmen are expected to still be able to do their 'normal' jobs
they've learned in technical training when they move to another base."
In addition to the unique learning requirements Airmen describe the most
difficult challenge ACMS maintainers face is adapting to a constantly
evolving weapons system while combating low manning and a junior force.
"We're getting new modifications for the equipment almost every day and
that can be a challenge for us to keep up but also for the follow-on
training schoolhouse," Quinn said.
Constant modification changes coupled with being approximately 40 people
short of the personnel needed to meet manning requirements according to
an Air Force Manpower Study conducted in 2013, the ACMS members are
always on the go.
"We're especially undermanned with non-commissioned officers," Chester
said. "That makes it challenging when we need training tasks signed off
because only an NCO can do it."
Manning issues have been challenging since before the squadron existed.
"For a while the pilots and sensor operators were locked into Creech
meaning they couldn't leave," Quinn said. "What most people don't know
is that we were too. Now that the hold has been lifted we had a lot of
people who changed duty stations, and most were replaced by brand-new
Airmen, so a lot of experience is gone."
Like other RPA career fields Airmen retention after their first enlistment has proven to be challenging.
"It can be hard trying to keep people here because they can go down the
road and get a job fairly easily and make more money," said Master Sgt.
Timothy Serrano, 432nd ACMS first sergeant.
Maj. Chester added that the Air Force gives the Airmen quality training
and then they can be hired by a civilian contracting company for
substantially more pay. For those who stay, it's mostly because of a
passion for serving their nation. Sometimes knowing they can make more
money in the private sector, the Airmen choose to stay out of that
passion and devotion.
Despite the struggles and difficulties, the ACMS works 24/7, 365, to ensure the ISR mission is completed.
"I'm so amazed at the intellect and skills of everyone in the unit,"
Chester said. "I see the passion, they're proud of what they do, which
is supporting the mission every day and it's incredible."