TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – The first step to accessing the Travis Air Force Base Command Post is through a large, metal, unwelcoming door with brightly colored warning signs. On the wall hangs a phone containing preset numbers and a guide to help determine which section to call as well as give the person accessing the area time to consider if they are even in the right place.
After the self-assessment, you dial the command post controller and request entry through door number one. This leads you into a small room with more warning signs, a storage unit directing you to store your cellphone or any other recording devices you may have and a glass window where the friendly controller, a welcomed warmth to the stark coldness of the entry process, asks to see identification before letting you in.
Once you gain entry, you are provided with a visitor badge and escorted to the room that houses the command post, the maintenance operations center and the air terminal operations center. There are no windows and the main sources of light are the computer screens and the big television screens on the wall that show different parts of the base.
This security process is required for the command post because it is the information superhighway for the entire base, where command post Airmen are tasked with providing command, control, communications and information support.
“The command post mission differs quite drastically from base to base,” said Senior Airman Barbara Roberts, 60th Air Mobility Wing Command Post emergency actions controller. “In some locations, we are responsible for reporting readiness to, and executing direct orders from, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While at other locations, our focus is predominantly on nuclear operations, contingency response or flight following.”
For the largest base in Air Mobility Command, the command post mission revolves around tracking the three weapons systems - C-17 Globemaster III, C-5M Super Galaxy, KC-10 Extender - at Travis as well as any transient aircraft that pass through the base.
“We also are the (command and control) node for the David Grant (USAF) Medical Center, the Contingency Response mission and AMC’s busiest aerial port,” said Maj. Steven Chandler, 60th AMW Command Post command and control operations chief. “Just last year alone, we executed over 3,700 missions, delivering 200 million pounds of fuel, and transported 129 million pounds of cargo, as well as 48,000 passengers. More so, we are now gearing up to take on the mission of the Air Force’s newest tanker, the KC-46 (Pegasus).”
With the large number of flights that pass through, the command post stays busy ensuring each and every flight is tracked and accounted for.
“We manage all of the flights departing and arriving at our station,” said Senior Airman Charlotte Stenzel, 60th AMW Command Post emergency actions controller. “Through extensive coordination with MOC and ATOC, we ensure cargo and passengers are uploaded, and the aircraft departs without delay. We also are the Department of Defense’s ‘Gateway to the Pacific,’ which results in a hectic flying schedule.”
The command post manages and performs activities within operations centers, rescue coordination centers and command centers based on their specific assignment. The calls they receive are as varied as their mission sets and can range from minor issues to major incidents in one shift.
“When most people think of the command post, they think of the Giant Voice, but there’s much more that goes into being a controller,” said Roberts. “The command post essentially serves as the Central Nervous System of the base. We are expected to have a pulse on everything happening on the installation – from broken aircraft to suicide attempts, to DUIs and bomb threats. More than that, we’re expected to know what to do with that information – to know what information needs to be disseminated to other agencies, wing leadership or reported to higher headquarters, on behalf of the installation.”
At Travis, the command post is strategically positioned in the same room as MOC, for maintenance information, and ATOC, for aerial port information, so they can easily and efficiently coordinate any information they receive from the 30 or more flights per day that they are tasked with tracking.
“Flight following involves a lot of coordination,” said Stenzel. “As an example of tracking a typical flight, we start by giving the crew a call to wake them up at a specific amount of time before their flight. Then, while the flight crew conducts their preflight checks, we coordinate with ATOC to make sure the passengers get to the aircraft on time, along with any cargo requirements for that flight. We also make sure the aircrew have the right amount of fuel before takeoff. Any flights arriving at Travis will give us a ’30-minutes-out’ call, passing maintenance status, mission data, and any download information they may have. We will then coordinate with MOC to assign aircraft parking and post-flight support.”
On top of the schedule of tracked flights controllers monitor, fielding notifications and sending notifications through AtHoc, the service’s emergency notification system, are also part of their tasks.
“We send out all of the emergency notifications, which can range from high winds to natural disaster alerts,” said Staff Sgt. Jon Schexnyder, 60th AMW Command Post emergency actions controller. “Types of notifications can be similar; however, the best way to handle them is situationally dependent. You have to think on your feet, ‘who am I going to notify, who is this going to affect, who needs to know this information and how quickly, and how do I need to handle the situation?’”
Using their tools, the Siemens communication console and their computer, they can make and receive more than 500 calls a day requiring their complete attention and their ability to process information quickly.
“The Siemens console makes our life a lot easier here,” said Schexnyder. “It functions as a phone directory and has hot keys with all of the contacts we could possibly need for any situation. I couldn’t imagine trying to do this job efficiently without it.”
The most commonly known part of the command post job is operating the Giant Voice alert system.
“The Giant Voice is awkward,” said Roberts. “You have to talk slowly and be very articulate. The way you hear it broken up and projecting over the speaker system sounds slow, but it is even slower when we speak.”
Functioning similarly to how the brain connects the spinal cord to the human body, the command post integrates the received information and coordinates as well as influences the response activity of all parts of the base.
“This role is especially critical to ensure the safety and capability of our infrastructure and base populace, both of which experience a constantly changing environment” said Chandler. “Rapidly emerging threats, from terrorist attacks to impending wildfires, require swift integration where joint emergency response is vital.”
Accomplishing the command post mission means they achieve the same level of safety and security of the entire base as they do for gaining entry to their secure office space through strategic and effective communication.
“The amount of information we consume, and the sources it comes from, is growing by the day,” said Chandler. “In concert with the Air Force Chief of Staff’s Third Focus Area: Multi-domain Command and Control, we are actively finding ways to be more efficient on how we gather data, synthesize it, disseminate it, coordinate on it, and ultimately make it decision ready for our leaders.”
With the all-knowing power of the command post, the future is looking bright.
“This is an exciting time to be in our Air Force and Travis is an exciting place to be,” said Chandler. “Leadership at every echelon is empowering experts at the tactical level to enhance operational concepts. The vision and efforts of these incredible Airmen will allow us to dominate the future battlespace, increasing the lethality not only of our Air Force, but our nation.”