Cyber commandos always ready for joint fight
By Capt. Bruce Schwartz and 1st Lt. Dave Merideth, 919th Special Operations Communications Squadron
/ Published January 17, 2018
DUKE FIELD, Fla. -- A key component to any successful special operations mission is the ability to communicate with other air commandos often in unfamiliar and rapidly changing environments while under attack.
The result is an almost insatiable desire among warfighters for cyber professionals who can lead the way in providing non-kinetic effects and effective command and control.
Although they are quiet professionals, the 919th Special Operations Communications Squadron bring significant capability to combatant commanders around the globe in its quest to become the Air Force Reserve’s premier specialized communicators.
“Our cyber commandos have to be flexible to adapt to an ever-changing environment and think outside the box to provide maximum support to the warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Johnson, 919th Special Operations Communications Squadron commander. “Confidence, a can-do attitude and a willingness to try is a must!”
Members assigned to the 919th SOCS are the Air Force Reserve’s special operations cyber commandos. The expectation for each Airman is clear—to support Air Force Special Operations Command by providing secure and reliable communication.
To accomplish the mission at home station and in deployed locations, the 919 SOCS establishes critical tactical and satellite communications for the Joint SOF community. An AFSOC cyber commando requires diverse individual skillset, ability to operate outside of assigned AFSC and specialized equipment.
Airmen in the 919 SOCS, like Tech. Sgt. Christopher Raulerson, are eager to demonstrate they are ready for the challenge.
“During deployments, there is a wider range of equipment that you must learn to manage” Raulerson said. “There may be something you've never seen but must be able to adapt, learn the equipment and maintain or repair it.”
Serving at the tip of the tactical communications spear requires highly skilled experts capable of deploying rapidly and providing Special Operations Forces units with voice, data, video, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, video teleconferencing and a variety of other SOF-unique services.
The 919th SOCS trains, maintains, and deploys some of the most technologically advanced cyber systems in the Air Force. To ensure its members are always “combat mission ready,” the squadron’s leadership schedules exercises with total force SOF partners on a recurring basis.
Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Thoner, 919 SCP Flight Chief, understands both the reward and readiness requirements for staying CMR.
“That responsibility certainly doesn’t come without challenges,” said Thoner. “Rapid technological advancements, common within the SOF community, present a test of fortitude and determination to our Reservists.”
Undeterred, Duke Field’s cyber commandos use exercises with SOF partners to ensure the squadron is prepared when the rubber meets the road.
“Our goal is to participate in real-world exercises where we are self-sufficient, establishing and operating systems on generators out of tents, vacant buildings, and open fields” said Master Sgt. Christopher Tolbert, noncommissioned officer in charge of Cyber Transport Systems.
These experiences are just one way the squadron expands the skill set of 919th SOCS Reserve Citizen Airmen.
While these cyber commandos faces comparable challenges as other base communications squadrons, 919th SOCS Airmen exhibit the warrior spirit, ownership, and initiative that has become the norm throughout the squadron.
Master Sgt. Aazita Cline, assistant noncommissioned officer in charge of 919th Knowledge Operations, says “…working with folks in the squadron is such great and spectacular fun, but the real reason why I love my job is due to the fact that everything I am responsible for is clear-cut, straight to the chase, almost-police-like business. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.”
The desire to represent the ideal AFSOC cyber commando is ever present but takes on a new meaning when serving in a combat zone.
“I also do an assortment of additional duties during deployments that expand my knowledge and experience as an Airman,” said Raulerson. “Duties such as personnel specialist, equipment custodian and vehicle custodian among others. It also helps give you a better appreciation of others' duties back at home station since you may have done someone else's job but on a smaller scale.”