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644th CBCS Airmen support warfighters, experience culture in Suwon

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shane Dunaway
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
After months of preparation and exercises, the 644th Combat Communications Squadron deployed more than 20 Airmen to Suwon Air Base, Korea, in early March marking the first time the unit had deployed a communications activation package since it was reactivated here January 2008.

Three months later, the Airmen, as part of the 35th Expeditionary Support Squadron's communications flight, reached the halfway point of their six-month deployment with plenty to show for their efforts, both on and off duty. 

"For comm specifically, the day-to-day mission [here] involves meeting new requirements generated by our customers [including all] non-secure and secure internet connections, Defense Switched Network lines and land mobile radios," said Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Thomas, 35th ESS communications flight superintendent. "[We also provide] preventative maintenance inspections and field change orders on equipment, respond to trouble tickets on any of the above, man a 24/7 comm help desk, maintain the satellite trunk for communications and continually train on our equipment." 

Andersen's deployed communicators work alongside deployed members from the 18th Communications Squadron, Kadena AB, Japan; the 35th CS, Misawa AB, Japan, and the 374th CS, Yokota AB, Japan, to provide communications to the deployed warfighter. The units' ability to jell together paved the way for smooth operations. 

"[The biggest overall achievement so far during this deployment was] developing a cohesive team and overcoming unforeseen obstacles," Sergeant Thomas said. "This has enabled comm to provide a robust communications capability, enabling the day-to-day success of the mission." 

Though the mission has been successful, it doesn't mean the unit hasn't had its share of challenges. 

"[Our biggest obstacle was providing] most of the services that an in-garrison comm squadron [offers] with [one-fourth of the personnel] and completely tactical equipment," said 2nd Lt. Louis Nguyen, 35th ESS communications flight officer-in-charge. "More with less isn't so much a challenge as it is a combat comm, U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense ethos." 

A lack of familiarity also presented some early concerns. 

"[It was challenging] deploying our equipment to a relatively unfamiliar terrain in a very short amount of time," Sergeant Thomas said. "We had to adjust quickly to setting up in an environment most of us had never been. The layout of the base also provided challenges, but despite those initial challenges, we have prevailed." 

When the Airmen aren't working to keep the lines of communication open, the Airmen seek opportunities to experience the Korean culture. 

"The Koreans are great people and love the American military," said Staff Sgt. Brandon Allen, 35th ESS communications flight radio maintenance technician. "They are very polite and helpful. It is a bit difficult to get around at times, but there's always a friendly face to point you in the right direction. The food is great and [this beautiful] country has so much to offer whether you are the outdoorsman or a shopper." 

Senior Airman Joseph Lapthorne, 35th ESS communications flight network control center technician, echoes the same sentiment. 

"It is interesting to see the difference between the two cultures and be able to learn about theirs while sharing some of your own," Airman Lapthorne said. "It is fun and very interesting to say the least. Being able to say that I've been here is a plus and something I didn't think I would ever do." 

The Airmen also benefitted from the experiences on the job and have used the experiences to grow professionally. 

"[This deployment has taught me] to always take everyone's ideas into consideration," Sergeant Allen said. "It may not be the most experienced Airman who has all the right ideas. It is good to stay fresh and consider all angles before attempting to complete a task. This ensures proper planning and fewer problems." 

With three more months left on the books, the Airmen still have plenty of time to continue to grow professionally and personally as they shift their focus to the second half of the deployment. 

"During the second half, our mindset goes from deploying and sustaining the mission 'steady state' to the tasks required to successfully redeploy back to [our] home station, while still providing the best possible support right up to the end," Sergeant Thomas said.