Double mission abroad

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Andrea A. S. Williamson
  • 108th Wing

Chief Master Sgt. Jessie J. Castillo, said he was pleased when he heard that members of the New Jersey Air National Guard ,108th Communications Flight, were able to assist his Airmen at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany from March 10-22, 2019.

            “Often times, active duty members see guardsmen as…part-time Airmen, where we do the job every day,” said Castillo, the 52nd Communications Squadron superintendent. “But we forget that these guys have a whole host of knowledge with many doing this type of work in their civilian job.”

            The 108th CF, led by Chief Master Sgt. Matthew J. Johnson, the chief enlisted manager, headed to Spangdahlem Air Base with the focus of training, networking, and increasing unit morale. Little did he know that the 52nd CS could use their expertise in areas such as knowledge management and cybersecurity.

            The 13-member team headed abroad, contained various ranks from seven different communications-related specialties. Cybersecurity specialists, Staff Sgts. James C. Kim and Robert J. Patterson from the 108th CF, were among the diverse group.

            Even though Kim and Patterson did not operate the 52nd CS’s cybersecurity system, they gave “over the shoulder” feedback and hands-on assistance in visual inspections as the Airmen completed various tasks.

            “Our main pointers were guidance on documentation, policies, and procedures,” said Patterson with a smile, as he described the highly sensitive work. “Let’s just go with that.”

            Nevertheless, the two — along with newly promoted Senior Airman Eric T. Garcia, also a cybersecurity specialist — made a difference, said Castillo, who received positive reviews from several 52nd CS members overseeing the 108th CF.

            In the past, Castillo said the 52nd CS has hosted units who did not serve their mission, either due to having the “wrong skill set” or having less service related intentions. In contrast, Castillo praised the 108th CF for their work ethic and positivity.

            “You all came at a good time,” said Castillo. “We usually see changes happen between April and June. That’s when we get a lot of our new Airmen, as others reach their term here or may go away for training. You also get the guys who come here for training during the spring and summer with the intentions to take advantage of the sight-seeing and festivals,” laughs Castillo.  “That’s fine and all, but you have to come here to work.”

            In addition, both Castillo and Johnson stated that they have seen turnover in the communications career field due to the high salaries offered in the civilian job market.

            With a fighter mission to support, along with providing command and control to multiple bases around the globe, Castillo said he is overall proud that the 52nd wing have built themselves up more than other units within the past couple of years, making them an effective entity in the force.

            Still, assistance such as the suggestions offered by knowledge manager, Tech Sgt. Latasha J. Parker, 108th CF, were welcomed.

            Parker said she offered assistance by sending ahead a log of the 108th staging room to offer an approach for the 52nd Knowledge Operations Management unit to develop their own effective way of organizing files.

            “As a knowledge manager, I have a responsibility to follow rules governing the Freedom of Information Act, Personal Identification Information, and the Privacy Act,” said Parker. “We also make sure publications and forms are filtered through regulations.”

            As a part of this responsibility, Parker notes, files are kept in a staging room for 56 years. There, organization is key.

            “We keep a log of files,” said Parker. “When we remove a box, we know exactly where it should go to make sure the files stay in order. Or if we need a file, we know exactly where to go to find it.”

            Parker said that the 108th Wing’s efficiency in that area was something she could offer the 52nd unit, but she too learned from them.

            “I learned functions of SharePoint,” said Parker. “I learned how to create, or structure, things on the SharePoint page.”

            The exchange of ideas and approaches to the many functions of the communications field, came full circle for both Castillo and Johnson.

            “The meeting of the minds, was definitely a mission for us,” said Castillo, about the two CF units. “I hoped they also learned something from us.”

            “And we did,” said Johnson, as he sat in Castillo’s award decorated office.

            This temporary duty assignment allowed 108th guardsmen to function outside their usual environment, test their abilities, grow, and to be proud of what they can offer, said Johnson.

            Several COMM Airmen on the TDY noted that because the 108th CF is small in comparison to other units, as individuals, they are versed in multiple specialties to ensure that whenever the team is tasked with an assignment, someone is readily available to address it.

            Castillo who refers to this as “the hybrid Airman”, says he likes how the guardsmen operates, a concept of doing what it takes to be right for the mission. He said at times, he however may get an Airman who may be good with numbers or a particular system, but struggle when it comes to interacting directly with people. In those cases, he said he has kept an Airman in a particular area longer due to their strengths.

            No matter the approach, the two offered different perspectives based on the dynamics of their unit.

            Johnson said that aside from training, he, as well as his flight, were able to connect to one another throughout the course of this TDY.

            As traditional Airmen, members can go long periods of time without interacting on a personal level with one another, said Johnson. While in Germany, members participated in group activities such as dining out and traveling.

            “It’s been great,” said Patterson, about being in Europe with the flight. “I love the European history here.”

            Kim also agreed, “this trip had the most significance because I got to know the guys that I work with in a less formal way.”

            A full-time civilian cyber security engineer and manager in the D. C. metro area, Kim said, he “loved it”, not only was it a learning experience, but this TDY was the equivalent to a conference in the industry.

            “We become irrelevant if we don’t do more of these,” said Kim.

            Both Kim and Patterson thanked Capt. Robert Spiegel, commander, 108th CF, Capt. Cynthia Cano-Hewitt, commander, 108th Force Support Squadron, and Johnson for their integral action in ensuring the two 108th units were able to share in this movement for training.