Air Operations Group stands up
By Tech. Sgt. Aaron Smith, 102nd Intelligence Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 04, 2009
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- As Senior Airman Alexis Colonna, working on the ops floor of the 102nd Air Operations Group (AOG), sits down at a large new desk, she looks toward the four computer monitors in front of her. Two large flat-screen televisions, mounted on the far wall, stream out the latest news and information. She dons the heavy headphones lying on the desk in front of her and a voice from more than 1,000 miles away comes on the line. Airman Colonna listens and watches the monitors as the voice talks her through the most current status updates and briefings. She looks over the information and prepares herself to take over part of the 24/7 battle watch mission from the 608th Air Operations Center (AOC), located at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
Air Operations Centers are not a new concept. AOCs have been around in one form or another since the days of the Army Air Corps and World War II. Early AOCs were often ad hoc centers consisting of nothing more than phones, radios, maps and grease boards where the theater air commander and his team planned and observed the air campaign.
Modern AOCs are state of the art facilities, connected to multiple information sources from news to aircraft and ships to field units and an endless number of other assets. Most individual AOCs are responsible for planning and observing the air campaign for their specific areas of coverage. The 608th is uniquely responsible for the Global Strike Mission. They plan and monitor missions that involve strategic assets that are too important to be released to a specific theater of operations. Part of this commitment involves a 24/7/365 watch mission. On the watch they monitor news and information sources for anything that might effect current operations or plans.
The 102nd AOC's role, as of now, is to augment the Airmen at the 608th AOC and to take up part of the operational workload from them. Traditionally, National Guard units that were assigned this mission would deploy personnel and equipment to the physical location of the AOC and worked with active duty Airmen on site. This is what makes the missions currently happening between Barksdale and Otis unique, the use of distributed operations.
The ability to conduct distributed operations enables units to work as one even though they are miles apart. Airmen can share information and collaborate with each other using electronically linked systems within their respective work centers. Network Operations Centers have worked in this manner for some time to command and control network defense units. These operations have become more and more common as technology has grown and been able to support the transfer of information needed. Now, operators in the Air Operations Center on Otis Air National Guard Base can monitor mission activities as if they were present at the 608th AOC. The two operations centers can distribute the workload seamlessly.
In February, the 102nd AOC officially began supporting the Operational Battle Watch, a year and a half ahead of schedule, through the use of distributed operations using Web based command and control tools.
"To our knowledge, we are the first AOC in the Air Force to conduct distributed operations with an Air National Guard unit in this manner," said Col. Stephen Luxion, 608th AOC commander.
There have been many challenges and milestones in getting to the point of taking over this standalone mission. Whether it was recruiting new Airmen, training Airmen, or revamping a fighter squadron building to house an AOC, Lt. Col. Richard Sweeten, 102nd AOG commander, attributes the fact that the unit is so far ahead of schedule to its proactive and innovative Airmen.
"The speed at which we have adapted to this new mission is a testament to the men and women of the 102nd AOG. Instead of sitting back and waiting for our AOC augmentation role to be defined for us, we defined it ourselves and then worked with the 608th to make it a reality. Our efforts are laying the groundwork for future distributed operations between other AOCs and guard augmentation units."
There is hope for future expansion and increased responsibility as the 102nd AOC continues to prove itself. For now though, from a small room on Cape Cod, the voice finishes its briefings and Airman Colonna, along with the 102nd AOC, takes control and steps into an important real world mission.