By Maj. Joe Blubaugh, 15th Wing Public Affairs
Maintaining communication security in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) is a big job for the 747th Communications Squadron. In fact, they have the largest COMSEC footprint in Pacific Air Forces, supporting all the tenant units of the base including the Hawaii Air National Guard and several other locations such as Maui, Wheeler Army Airfield and Wake Island.
The members of the 747th will be the first to admit that many of their fellow Airmen don’t know what they do. In simple terms, they provide the material needed so that the units they support can utilize secure communications, both in the air and on the ground.
Tech. Sgt. Shari Epley, JBPHH COMSEC [communications security] manager, said she and four additional Airmen support more than 80 COMSEC accounts across a large geographical area. That number increase dramatically with onset of the planning phase of RIMPAC, a multinational maritime exercise that takes place in and around the Hawaiian Islands.
“RIMPAC definitely ups the tempo,” said Epley. “We start working with the organizations we support when the exercise planning starts to ensure we can provide them with their secure communication materials. We also support units from the United Kingdom, Canada, the Navy and Marines.”
Epley’s team was also responsible for providing the resources necessary so that the highest levels of RIMPAC leadership could communicate securely. The team’s efforts helped enable secure satellite communication links between the combined forces Air component commander, combined forces maritime component commander and the combined forces land component commander.
Not surprisingly with an exercise as large as RIMPAC, they also received last minute requests, especially from transient units attending the exercise.
“It takes a lot of extra time and coordination on the last minute requests, but we always drop what we are doing to make sure the mission is accomplished,” Epley said.
RIMPAC is one of the biggest exercises the team supports, and they provide more secure communication materials for the exercise than at any other time of the year. However, since a large part of their efforts were concentrated during the planning phase, they have been able to get back to somewhat normal day-to-day operations as the exercise entered its final days, said Epley. “And of course get ready for the next exercise,” she added.