Knowledge outweighs rank for National Guardsman in charge of AMC Phoenix Oracle project

  • Published
  • By Donna Jeffries
  • 108th Wing

Air National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Steven De Leon, an intelligence analyst with the 204th Intelligence Squadron, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, is currently playing a large role in the development of the Air Mobility Command-led project called Phoenix Oracle.  

Phoenix Oracle is the umbrella term for AMC/A2’s (Intelligence, Air and Space Information Operations) modernization, innovation and transformation efforts. Part of the project is building a multi-layered web capability that provides real-time, geospatial data accessible across unclassified, secret, top secret and allied network platforms allowing end users to accurately access predictive and prescriptive analytics for multiple purposes.  The final product will improve the quality and timeliness of the Mobility Air Force’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance and decrease time spent collecting and researching data and provide more time for analysis and other meaningful work.

The New Jersey ANG intelligence unit joined the project because of its ability to provide the continuity the active duty has challenges providing due to personnel turnover, said Lt. Col. Drew Eisenhofer, director of operations, 204th IS.

Additionally, the 204th is in the forefront because of the technical and skill sets personnel within the squadron possess. The specialties include publically available information analysts and operations intelligence analysts who write and brief airfield risk assessments and country risk assessments.

“In the beginning (March) it was just Lt. Col. Eisenhofer, attending meetings with AMC. He found out there was a relation to airfield risk assessments and country risk assessments and he asked for my flight to go to a meeting and I was asked to attend because I write risk assessments,” said De Leon.

De Leon was placed on the geospatial visualization team in March and immediately put his knowledge to use to successfully create a web application for the SECRET platform. The A2 personnel then briefed AMC, who in turn were “so impressed with how the web application turned out, they asked what my skills and experiences were,” said De Leon.

“[Staff Sgt.] Steve De Leon and [Master Sgt.] Mike Klein are the perfect example of the “digitally adept airman” the USAF is striving for,” said Melinda Meek, deputy director of A2-Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.  “De Leon has the intelligence background, but also has the technology skills to leverage the open source and modern geospatially enabled capabilities to weave into our intelligence mission.” 

With his military intelligence training and a bachelor’s degree in data science and computer science from Thomas Edison University, De Leon is considered a “double threat.” “They call me UNICORN because I have the Intel background and technology background and I can combine both,” said De Leon. 

Oftentimes success leads to more responsibility and greater challenges.

Such is the case for De Leon whose success led him to being named the chief lead of the AMC’s Phoenix Oracle development team on June 28. He is responsible for researching and developing different scripts to support the database and website and oversees a team of three civilian contract software engineers.

“His passion for making the mission better for everyone, his positive spirit, inquisitive mind, and desire to contribute to a team of people willing to be change agents (it’s not easy being the voice of change), is why I asked him to be the Chief of our Development Corps in our Mod Squad,” said Meek. “The Mod Squad is a team of people standing together to transform our mission in key technology areas in data, geospatial, visualization and user experience, collaboration and integration (diverse partnerships with IC, DoD, industry, academia and modern DevSecOps approaches), automation and analytics (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning/Computer Vision/Predictive & Prescriptive Analytics), and modern program management (agile, lean startup, venture capitalism, etc.).”

With a current budget of 4.3 million dollars, the project is the first of its kind and is slated for a two-year completion said De Leon. 

“We are in the beginning stages. The project will streamline data onto the Phoenix Oracle Website where intel analysts can easily obtain information about any airfield and countries to use for their briefings or situational awareness,” explains De Leon. “This [web capability] will also make it easier for Intel analysts to write airfield risk assessments and country risk assessments that are disseminated throughout the Air Force. It will also help AMC, but it’s also open to other MAJCOMS, Federal agencies, and Intelligence Community.”

 “The world relies on relevant, trustworthy, and timely data and the ability to understand it’s relationships in time and space.  That is what Mr. De Leon is helping us do in Phoenix Oracle; understand what is happening in the mission space in a virtual world in time and space,” said Meek.

De Leon is concentrating on making the CrunchyData PostgreSQL/PostGIS database and services into a digestible form. PostgreSQL is an open-source, object-relational database system while PostGis provides spatial objects, or storage and query information about location and mapping, for the PostgreSQL database.

Meaning – It’s a database and also a coding language with different iterations – this PostgreSQL/PostGIS data is for geospatially enabled information.

“I’m taking all the data sources that AMC and A2 compile and indexing them into the PostgreSQL/PostGIS data and then from there trying to script Python code so the website can recognize all the indexed data in the PostgreSQL/PostGIS database,” said the De Leon.

Basically his job is to bridge the gap from data to website.

The staff sergeant says he feels the weight of his task because this project has eyes on it not just from A2 but from several major commands, the Department of the Air Force Chief Software Officer and Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) Executive Champion, the Department of the Air Force Chief Digital Transformation Officer, and their Phoenix Oracle partner, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), that are anticipating it being ready for operation.

“To keep my balance I keep a calendar and annotate everything I do and checkoff what I’ve done,” said De Leon. I’m creating this as I go. I have to set up the environment for the codes in order for my team to contribute.”

While confident about his skills, De Leon says every day he’s trying to learn and experience more to better help his team and the project as a whole. Meetings take up most of his Mondays and the rest of the week is spent actually researching codes and scripts and learning the mechanics of the different coding languages.

“I learned the fundamentals in college, but now I’m learning the application of it at the enterprise level,” said De Leon, who also is currently studying for a master’s degree in technology at Thomas Edison University.

“What is also exciting about De Leon is his willingness to step up to the plate and learn new technologies like the CrunchyData PostgreSQL/PostGIS data services we are using to advance the mission,” said Meek.

Aside from his Phoenix Oracle team members, De Leon is working with NGA, A2-Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance USAF and Arkansas Air National Guard personnel. He’s also drawing from the expertise of a CrunchyData senior engineer to create the database for the project and fellow squadron member, Master Sgt. Michael Klein, who also shares his expertise in technology and cybersecurity.

Deleon says this is big and he’s grateful for the support from his friends and co-workers.