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NEWS | Feb. 2, 2022

673d CS Airmen Integral in Global Communications System

By Senior Airman Samuel Colvin 673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- U.S. Airmen with the 673d Communications Squadron (CS) were critical to the install of a 120-foot-tall High Frequency Global Communications System (HFGCS) antenna tower at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), with the finishing touches slated to be completed later this year.

The antenna is part of one of the U.S. Air Force’s 13 HFGCS stations, which are strategically located around the world for communication between the U.S. military’s ground stations and in-flight aircraft, seaborne vessels and submarines.

With a range that extends across the Bering Sea, the JBER station is vital to communications with U.S Air Force crew members intercepting Russian aircraft and escorting them away from U.S. airspace. When an inspections team found structural damage to the transmit antenna in summer 2018, a project was soon underway to decommission and replace it.

“The damage is believed to be from Alaska’s frequent earthquakes which, over time, caused the soil to move around and settle,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Brandon Schwing, the 673d CS Network Transport section chief.

Although contractors were responsible for disassembly, disposal and construction of the antenna tower, the 673d CS’s Radio Frequency Transmission Systems and Antenna Maintenance Airmen have been essential to the years-long project.

“These work centers coordinated this project with the HFGCS Special Program Office for over three years,” Schwing said. “They coordinated logistics and shipping, stored construction materials, cleared brush and mowed the antenna fields, obtained dig permits, obtained base access for the install team, activated and deactivated antennas, and provided escorts for the 2018 assessment team, the 2020 site survey team and the 2021 install team.”

Clearing brush and mowing around the site was undoubtedly the most labor-intensive task accomplished by the CS team for the project.

“We've had to mow a radius of about 500 yards with just one push mower for the antenna to be built and allow the specific placements of the guy-wires,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Trenton Sexton, a 673d CS Antenna Systems technician. “That mower we used will destroy anything and using it was awesome, but you’re just walking in a circle that gets bigger and bigger until you finally hit the final circle and you can call it quits for the day.

“We also had to cut out a driveway with the mower so the contractors could access the site because it was quite overgrown,” Sexton continued. “The brush and grass grew pretty fast and some of it was taller than me, so we had to tilt the mower up and let it eat everything.”

Sexton’s work center is typically responsible for preventative maintenance and inspections of the physical structure of the tower and cables, replacing rusted or compromised components, and adjusting the tension of the guy-wires to keep the tower stable.

“We also come out here to maintain all of the roads for the RF shop and pass by the antenna,” Sexton said. “It used to be little pieces, and now it's fully built and totally different compared to the other antennas. It was a cool experience, seeing it from start to finish.”

On the system end of things, RF Transmission Systems Airmen had to take the antenna offline before work could begin. These Airmen handle creating radio circuits to connect radios to antennas.

“Fortunately the new antenna was put on the same antenna ports on the matrix as the old antenna,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Angell, a 673d CS Radio Frequency Transmission Systems supervisor. “The system isn't going to know the difference, so we aren’t going to have to reprogram it.”

Angell explained that in addition to allowing for secure communication channels for Russian intercept missions, the HFGCS provides communication support for NASA, Air Force One and Mystic Star — an HF communications system for the U.S. president, vice president and other officials aboard Special Air Mission aircraft.

“It's humbling, but also gives me a sense of pride to know that we're part of that mission,” Angell said.

“My Airmen take great pride in maintaining JBER’s HFGCS and ensuring the system stays online to secure our national defense,” Schwing said. “The Airmen have gone above and beyond to make sure the HFGCS antenna installation progressed unhindered. They gladly provided their technical expertise, support and assistance throughout every phase of this multi-year project. Without them, the installation would not have happened.”

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