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Island warrior: Guam combat communicator delivers mobile networks

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar – (This feature is part of the "Island Warriors" series. These stories focus on Pacific Islander Airmen, highlighting their Air Force stories around the globe.)

When it comes to communication there is no room for delays or mistakes. Secure communications are the baseline requirement for today's military operations.

To ensure a reliable link anytime, anywhere, Airmen like Staff Sgt. Junbryan Samson, a cyber network technician assigned to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command communications division at the Combined Air Operations Center here stand ready 24/7.

“We pave the way for other Airmen so they can get their job done,” Samson said. “We enable them to send and receive secure messages to the other side of the world. Knowing is half the battle, and information flow enables leaders to make the right decisions. While we usually provide a band-aid solution, it can have big effect on the mission.”

As part of the contingency communications team, Samson’s main focus is the communications fly-away kit, which allows Airmen to establish crucial internet and voice links with bare-base resources, anywhere in the world via wireless routers, very small aperture terminal satellite and broadband global area network satellite link.

“The kits provide situational awareness, data and voice connection to units,” Samson said. “So we ensure users have a connection, that they are able to get the information they need. We place communications where it wasn’t before.”

Split into several transport cases, the equipment is designed to be deployed when enduring networks will take too long to establish, or missions only require intermittent connections, Samson said.

Each of the kits is coded to connect to certain military networks and encryption systems, requiring Samson to keep safety software updated and kits ready to connect. This requires frequent software patches and manual coding to ensure encryption software is linking systems correctly, Samson said.

“We configure each appliance, from the network switch to the encryption,” Samson said. “These kits are deployed across the AOR and we are sent to go set up communications from the ground up, troubleshoot problems and maintain the stations.”

Samson forward deployed to remote airfields in support of key missions around the theatre. Traveling to Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Iraq, he established a range of networks, ranging from two to more than 40 computers at a time. His work supported a variety of missions including connecting aerial surveillance radar data from the Syrian border to command and control centers and other data ports serving combat search and rescue teams.

When not traveling, Samson performs preventive maintenance to ensure the equipment is ready to deploy -- orders come down quickly and could require the team to depart within hours of notice. The deployment to AFCENT required him to  learn many primary tasks outside his own career field training to meet mission demands.

“Sergeant Samson came from combat communications and into a completely different career field,” said Tech. Sgt. Cedrick Williams, cyber network supervisor liaison and Samson’s team lead. “As a system administrator he quickly provided our team with crucial know-how of how to mitigate network vulnerabilities.

“He was a great addition to the team,” Williams continued. “He’s consistently brought great ideas and with his innovative thinking helped us overcome challenges swiftly and efficiently.”

Samson found his way into cyber operations by combining his will to serve with a goal of a career in information technology. The original inspiration for his service came from his brother, Samson said, who preceded him in the military services. Samson’s brother currently serves as a combat medic and biomedical equipment technician with the U.S. Army National Guard in Hawaii.

“I’ve always looked up to my brother,” Samson said. “He was always a role model for me and whatever he did, I followed. I saw how military service changed him. He seemed smarter, more responsible. And so I decided I wanted to see the same change in me.”

“In an emergency, it is often a military member who keeps a level head and people look to for help,” Samson continued. “I wanted to be that person who can lead and help people.”

While family was always his guideline, Samson has found his own way in the Air Force. He recently completed his bachelor’s degree in computer and information science and looks to continue his professional development in the Air Force.

After his assignment in Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, as a command and control systems administrator, Samson said he was lucky to return home to Guam for an assignment at the 644th Combat Communications Squadron at Andersen AFB, where he is a cyber systems operator, maintaining deployable servers and communications packages for 800-3000 users.

Training and exercises at the 644th CBCS prepared Samson to deploy not only with cables and computer components, but also with his weapon and ammunition ready to defend a fighting position or bare base.

“Having been through the training at home has been really valuable here,” Samson said. “It mentally prepared me for dangers downrange and helped me be used to the idea of real-world contingency operations.”

Despite Guam’s small population of about 200,000 residents, the island tops the list of U.S. enlistments per capita and nearly one in eight of its adults serve or have served in the armed forces.

During his deployment Samson at times sports his Guam patch and said he takes special pride in his island.

“Many people don’t know much about Guam, its culture and history,” Samson said. “But we’re the tip of the spear in the Pacific. And I’m always happy to share more with people, so they can learn more about the island. Guam’s always with me. It’s simply home.”

Samson said he looks forward to Guam’s world-renowned beaches and barbecue, adding his first stop after landing home will be his favorite restaurant.

“I look forward to coming home,” Samson said. “But I will also miss the mission and the team here in AFCENT. It has been a very rewarding experience.”