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Command Post Critical To Mission Success

Master Sgt. Steve Griffith, 117th Air Refueling Wing Command Post Superintendent along with controller Master Sgt. Leeann Bankhead observe as Staff Sgt. Charles O'Rourke checks equipment during a recent exercise January 21 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by: Senior Master Sgt. Ken Johnson/Released)

Master Sgt. Steve Griffith, 117th Air Refueling Wing Command Post Superintendent along with controller Master Sgt. Leeann Bankhead observe as Staff Sgt. Charles O'Rourke checks equipment during a recent exercise January 21 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by: Senior Master Sgt. Ken Johnson/Released)

Command Post Controllers from the 117th Air Refueling Wing test portable communication equipment used as a deployment and backup system November 15, 2012.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by: Senior Master Sgt. Ken Johnson/Released)

Command Post Controllers from the 117th Air Refueling Wing test portable communication equipment used as a deployment and backup system November 15, 2012. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by: Senior Master Sgt. Ken Johnson/Released)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The 117th Air Refueling Wing Command Post is the central point of action for on base operations and mission requirements.  Command Post controllers communicate and interact with all facets of operations and receive orders directly from Air Force command organizations.

"Anything of significance that happens on base at one point or another will be routed to command post," Staff Sgt. Charles O'Rourke, command post controller.

Controllers support state and national strategic mission requirements.  Daily conferences with U.S. Strategic Command occur where controllers are required to decode Emergency Action Messages, process and disseminate information accordingly.  EAMs are received in an unclassified encoded format and decoded using related decodes documents.  The information ranges from Unclassified to Top Secret and requires controllers to maintain a Top Secret clearance.

Though most of the messages are routine in nature, when immediate, real-world mission action is required by EAM's, controllers are the first to react, and move on behalf of the 117 ARW Wing Commander. 

"The command post takes the lead on the 117 ARW strategic support mission," said Senior Master Sgt. Steve Griffith, command post superintendent. "If the base receives orders to launch the alert aircraft we would sound the Klaxon alarm, alert the aircrew and launch the aircraft."

Controllers assist in refueling missions by ensuring receivers (aircraft receiving fuel from a tanker) are ready to launch at the scheduled time. Part of their responsibility is to check mission times and contact other units to ensure their aircraft are still scheduled to launch and advise on status of 117 ARW aircraft.  With potential maintenance issues and evolving weather conditions, it is important to maintain a constant flow of communication.

"We have to make sure the mission is a go or no-go; pilots do not want to take off if they are not going to have anything to do," said O'Rourke.  "It would be bad for the receiver to be in-flight and not have a refueler there or a refueler to waste fuel for a refueling mission and not have a receiver there."
    
Controllers are also responsible for information flow that does not call for direct command decisions. They must utilize judgment in disseminating information and notifying responsible parties at the proper time.  This can be more of a pressing issue when few base personnel are immediately available.  Decisions are often made to notify personnel after duty hours concerning the urgency of new events.

"We are an information hub, making calls to people is not something you do without thinking about it," said O'Rourke. "Two controllers could get the same information and field it completely differently and I would never say any of them are wrong in the way they handled it."

Griffith stresses the importance of being able to thrive in different environments and fully comprehend information.  He also stresses the importance of being able to use different communication methods in the career field.  He believes successful controllers must be able to understand the big picture when gathering information. 

"Multi-tasking is a big asset controllers must have," said Griffith. "Analytical thought is important but the speed in which they can digest information, understand it and disseminate it is essential to the job."

There are a broad range of responsibilities the command post has and focus will shift constantly.  With global events and threats constantly changing and evolving, what was a priority yesterday may not be the primary concern today.  The ability or willingness to handle these changes is necessary as a controller.

"It's not easy and it's not always fun but every day is different," said O'Rourke. "Any day your focus can be on one of about 15 different areas that we are required to be proficient and it may be something that we have not had to deal with in months."
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