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Communications Airmen showcase Air Force versatility

ALI BASE, Iraq - 'In lieu of taskings' is the term used to describe a deployed Airman filling a position for the U.S. Army. Some communications career field Airmen assigned here, however, are filling 'in lieu of' positions for their fellow Airmen.

The 407th Expeditionary Communications Squadron commander who is deployed from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., allowed some of the Airmen assigned to his home station squadron, to volunteer and deploy into positions here that are outside of their career field.

These communications Airmen were all assigned to the same squadron, but their jobs varied greatly according to their assigned Air Force Specialty Code. Yet, that doesn't stand in their way of accomplishing the Air Force's deployed mission.

Twenty-five percent of the Airmen deployed to the 407th ECS are filling positions outside of their normal careers. These 'in lieu of" Airmen are "smart, skilled and versatile," said Maj. Terrance Adams, 407th ECS commander. "With the right attitude, training and leadership support they can achieve success doing any job, anytime and anywhere."

Why would a squadron commander allow Airmen to deploy to perform duties they never enlisted to do?

The answer can be found by understanding who these Airmen are. More than 90 percent of the 407th ECS Airmen, including their commander, are deployed from the 33rd Combat Communications Squadron. That squadron is apart of the 3rd Combat Communications Group, or "Third Herd." The group's primary mission is "to set up communications and air traffic control at a new airfield being built in a hostile and austere environment," Major Adams said.

One person making this mission happen is Senior Airman John Kelly who, in his position at Tinker AFB, is a trained airfield systems technician and works on mobile equipment that is used to talk with aircraft. His time in the 407th ECS, however, has him working on desktop computers and other hardware.

Tech. Sgt. William Moore is another example of someone who is working outside of his AFSC but is making a difference in the area of responsibility. He is officially a satellite communications and
wideband technician, but here, he's working the communication's focal point or "help desk."

The list goes on.

The Herd is combat trained, combat focused and highly deployable.

Major Adams said he made the decision to allow communications Airmen to deploy into positions outside of their primary career fields but still under the communications umbrella "because they wanted to deploy and they wanted to serve their country because of [the] Sept. 11, 2001 [attacks].

The major explained that Airmen in certain communications career fields felt they weren't getting to deploy enough because there wasn't a great need for their particular area of expertise at deployed locations.

"I wanted to go," said Senior Airman Gordon Carey, a ground radio maintainer who deployed here to work on small computers. "My [unit's] radar is [being used] in Kirkuk and we're not tasked to work on one here," he said explaining the career leap he made to work on small computers.

While some careers that fall under communications are heavily tasked to deploy, others are not. The major said allowing those Airmen who don't deploy frequently to fill in for those who do resulted in a win-win situation for all involved.

"We're at a high deployment rate right now, it's not just normal [Air Expeditionary Force] rotations but also one and two person taskings affecting our people," he said. "I did this [allow people to fill positions outside of their career field] because some of my Airmen were getting divorced due of high operations tempo, while other Airmen were complaining about not getting the opportunity to deploy and not feeling part of combat communication's mission."

To alleviate the pressure on the Airmen deploying frequently and give the Airmen stuck at home a shot, the commander sat down with his staff to devise a solution.

"We acknowledged right away that we couldn't deploy Airmen into critical areas," the major said. "We then started looking at our individual Airmen's strengths and weaknesses and lining them up into areas we knew they could excel at. You have to know your people and know the deployed unit to make this decision. I know my folks' skills and I knew they could do this."

Once the Airmen were selected for deployment, the training started. The Third Herd has a network learning center available to fit whatever training needs the squadrons require. The squadron utilized that and on-the-job training to prepare the Airmen for their deployments.
Each 'in lieu of' Airman received anywhere from two weeks to a month of training, starting with normal basic skills training. Then, instructors determined the additional training the Airmen required depending on their individual needs.

"All of the training was properly documented in their records regardless of whether that was in their normal career path," said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Rogers, 407th ECS superintendent, who is also deployed from the Third Herd. "They will have these skills for the rest of their careers."

The commander said that the Airmen were able to learn and accomplish these jobs because, in keeping with the Air Force's culture, they "are trained to be versatile."

To ensure these Airmen were prepared to face deployed operations outside their career fields, he challenged them by "testing them hard so they could act in these situations."

Although the Airmen received training for the positions they were going to fill in Iraq, they realized not everything would be smooth sailing.

"I normally wouldn't get to deploy [in my primary career field] -- this is my first deployment," Airman Kelly said. "I've been in three different jobs since I've been here -- the help desk, network control center and small computers. At first this was frustrating, but as time has gone on it's been getting better."

"He gets fired a lot," said a teasing Sergeant Moore.

The real reason Airman Kelly has shifted through three different work centers is because his leadership has kept a close eye on all of the 'in lieu of' Airmen and shifted them from work center to work center, not because of mistakes made, but to maximize their potential and contributions to the squadron, Sergeant Rogers said.

Another measure is also in place to maximize work center efficiency and potential -- each Airman had a qualified expert, noncommissioned officer running the section to which they were assigned, Sergeant Moore said.

Since the squadron's arrival in January, the "Airmen have done an outstanding job here," Sergeant Rogers said.

"Our the initial settling in period had us running to find the right pace, but once the foundation was set we just took off," he said. "Throughout the deployment we've received phone calls from customers and coins from commanders who were absolutely stunned at the professionalism and work ethic of our Airmen. This is a testament to our ability as an Air Force not only to do a job, but to find different approaches to common problems by utilizing our Airmen's inherent ability to adapt and overcome any situation they face."

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