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    Washington Air Guard cyber unit has deep roots in combat communications

    Washington Air Guard cyber unit has deep roots in combat communications

    Courtesy Photo | A member of the Washington Air National Guard's 143rd Combat Communications Squadron...... read more read more

    CAMP MURRAY, WA, UNITED STATES

    08.27.2021

    Story by Capt. Hans Zeiger 

    194th Wing

    CAMP MURRAY, Wash.—The Washington Air National Guard’s 143rd Cyberspace Operations Squadron dates back to 1948, though its mission has changed considerably from when it was formed as the 143rd Air Control and Warning Squadron.

    The unit builds on a “rich heritage” in combat communications, according to Lt. Col. Jason Longoria, 143rd Cyberspace Operations Squadron commander.

    Today, the 143rd has a federal cyber protection team mission in support of combatant commanders and network defense. “The current mission of the 143rd is rooted in the continuous evolution of defensive cyber operations within the Air Force by providing critical resources to protect key Air Force mission systems and cyber security support to the State of Washington,” said Longoria. The unit’s mission within Washington State is to protect state computers and networks, said retired Lt. Col. Mark Aown, who served as the squadron commander from 2016 to 2019.

    When the 143rd ACW was federally recognized on April 21, 1948, it was among the earliest units of the newly-formed Washington Air National Guard. Based at Boeing Field in Seattle, the squadron was sited on a 17-acre former World War II training facility along with the 110th Radar Detachment. With two C-47 aircraft, the radar detachment drew in more recruits than it needed, and some of the first airmen to join the 143rd did so while they waited for positions to open in the 110th, according to a unit history.

    The first commander of the 143rd Air Control and Warning Squadron was 1st Lt. Jeane O. Brice. Brice established detachments on Bainbridge Island and Bellingham (the Bellingham detachment later became the 262nd Combat Communications Squadron).

    In its first year as an Air Control and Warning Squadron, the unit was mobilized for state service during flooding in southwest Washington in August and September 1948, according to an early unit history. After a commercial C-46 airliner crashed in a residential area of Georgetown not far from Boeing Field on July 19, 1949, killing seven people, members of the 143rd aided with the rescue, firefighting, and crowd control.
    The squadron conducted its first field training at Paine Field, Everett in 1949, followed by field training at Larson Air Force Base, Moses Lake in 1950.

    During the Korean War, from May 1951 until February 1953, the 143rd became a unit of the active duty Air Force, deploying to Elmendorf Air Force Base and remote sites in Alaska to conduct ongoing wartime air control and warning operations under the command of Capt. William Burlingame.

    Back in the Washington Air National Guard, the 143rd held field training at McChord Air Force Base in June 1953. Under the command of Maj. Robert King from 1954 to 1961, “the unit increased in proficiency and operational capability,” according to the squadron’s early history. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1960, King was appointed Assistant Adjutant General for Air of the Washington National Guard in 1961.

    Meanwhile, the squadron was redesignated as the 143rd Communications Squadron in 1960. By 1962, the unit had 10 officers and 200 Airmen, and the squadron was awarded the Washington Air National Guard’s Outstanding Unit award for 1963. In the early 1960s, the unit developed a “tributary” model of summer field training, establishing a central hub of communications along with remote communications teams. For its field training in the summer of 1964, for example, the 143rd established a base of operations at the Yakima Firing Center, with tributary operations at Larson Air Force Base in Moses Lake, Othello Air Force Station in eastern Washington, Kingsley Air Force Base in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and Portland International Airport.


    The 143rd Tradition

    Away from a Guard base and other Guard units most of the time, the 143rd developed its own identity and tradition over the years.

    In September 1967, the squadron was once again redesignated, this time as the 143rd Mobile Communications Squadron. It kept this designation until 1976, when it became the 143rd Combat Communications Squadron.

    Master Sgt. Dennis Hovland joined the unit in September 1968. His father, Senior Master Sgt. Lloyd Hovland, was a World War II veteran who had the joined the unit as a charter member in 1948. Dennis Hovland grew up visiting his father at the squadron and recalled “sliding down the hallways” in his socks. The senior Hovland was the unit’s training manager and recruiter for years.

    Leo Heider took an interest in the Air Guard after seeing a recruiting poster in the Highline Community College cafeteria in 1972. He went to see Senior Master Sgt. Hovland at the 143rd. Hovland took Heider out for a milkshake, and Heider signed up. After basic training, he completed on the job training and filled a technician position. Heider spent much of his Air Guard career in the power production field.

    The unit worked hard to maintain its readiness during the Vietnam era. “We were always preparing to be deployed,” said Heider.

    In the early 1970s, Airman Diane Sutton joined the unit, one of the first women to join the 143rd. Sutton worked in an administrative job at first, gaining a reputation for helping airmen, according to Hovland. “She was accomplished,” said Hovland. Sutton worked her way up the ranks and eventually become the squadron’s Chief Master Sergeant.

    The 143rd took part in the communications response to the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980, with TRC-61 communications linkages at Toledo, Capitol Peak, and Camp Murray. Though members had their own rations, they were generously fed by local residents in Toledo who were grateful for the Guard presence, according to a unit history.

    After more than 35 years in World War II era facilities, the 143rd moved into a new building on the Boeing Field site in 1984. In 1986, members of the 143rd deployed to South Korea. Following an Air Force Operational Readiness Inspection in 1988, the unit received an “Outstanding” designation, and the 143rd was recognized as the Washington Air National Guard’s Outstanding Unit that year. The following year, as the Cold War came to an end, members deployed to Denmark, Norway, Italy, Turkey, England, and Germany.

    The junior Hovland was the unit cook for seven years, before working in refrigeration, air conditioning, and power production roles. “It was a great career,” said Hovland. “The training was remarkable. You got to see the world and they paid you.”

    The unit conducted annual training at the Yakima Army Training Center for three years in a row, where it was “120 degrees in the kitchen, no AC back then,” according to Hovland. “The Guard was my life until 2008,” the year Hovland retired.


    Mentoring the next generation

    Hovland and Heider were among the veteran 143rd members who took mentoring roles for younger Airmen. So was Senior Master Sgt. Ron Mineo. After serving in the Navy Reserve in the 1960s and 1970s, Mineo joined the Washington Air National Guard in 1984, starting in the 262nd Combat Communications Squadron in Bellingham before transferring to the 143rd in 1987, and serving as a technician and team chief.

    Mineo’s first team chief at the 262nd was Tech. Sgt. John Nolan, who quickly rose through the ranks on his way to Chief Master Sergeant, a role he filled in the unit from 1990 until 1998. “Then at the 143rd one day Chief Nolan walked in and [introduced] his 19-year old son,” who was joining the unit, Mineo recalled.

    Airman Stephen Nolan appreciated Mineo’s mentorship. “He’s probably the reason I’m still in now, because he was good at motivating you, getting you excited about what the mission was and making sure you did the right things,” said Nolan, who started out as a wideband specialist before becoming an assistant wideband team chief.

    The 143rd was a visible presence in Seattle during its 60-year tenure there. “We were like the only show in town in Seattle” among Guard units, said Stephen Nolan. The unit was “a class act organization” in its Boeing Field days, he added. Members took part in food drives during holiday seasons and in the Husky Stadium parking lot during the Apple Cup; for one football game, they collected 24 tons of canned food. They supported a Kiwanis campaign for children with disabilities and provided support during Seafair.

    Hovland and Heider, both satellite communications airmen, deployed to Kuwait for 30 days during Operation Desert Farewell, following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Hovland and Heider worked to repair and maintain communications equipment on a flight line. When they arrived, they found that the civilian communications team in Kuwait needed help. “We were able to teach them, and we got everything back in working order,” said Heider.

    “You kind of got the feel for the reality of war,” said Heider. “When the sirens go off in the middle of the night and you have to have your mask on, that brought it home to reality.”

    The following year, members supported drug interdiction missions in Honduras and the Bahamas. Members also supported the response to Hurricane Iniki in Hawaii. “Just to be able to go over and relieve some of those guys so they could take care of their own families, that was really rewarding,” said Heider. “We got there and things were in shambles.”
    A Tropospheric Scatter Microwave Radio Terminal team traveled to Thailand in 1994 for the COBRA GOLD exercise, consisting entirely of drill-status Guard members. Master Sgt. Scott Schwarz was the team chief, accompanied by Staff Sgt. Ken Blackford, Staff Sgt. Ron Kuhlman, and Mineo.

    Senior Master Sgt. Michael Readnour joined the 143rd in 1994 and serves today as a flight noncommissioned officer in charge.

    “Heider was like a father figure,” said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Ellis, who joined the 143rd in 1998 and serves as a full-time network infrastructure technician today. “We were like a big family up there. We did do much together. We had big, huge Christmas parties.”

    After a time away with the 256th Intelligence Squadron, Heider returned to the 143rd as the maintenance superintendent and stayed on until his retirement in 2007.

    Mineo, Readnour (then a staff sergeant), Tech. Sgt. Randy Strate, and Tech. Sgt Barbara Clays deployed to Sarajevo, Bosnia on a satellite mission in 1998. After that, the entire 143rd was called up for service in Kosovo, waiting stateside on active orders for a period of time before the deployment was called off, said Mineo.

    The 143rd provided support to civil authorities during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, said Stephen Nolan.

    During the war on terrorism, the squadron deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. In addition, the unit deployed to South America. Domestically, the unit deployed with the 242nd Combat Communications Squadron to provide communications following Hurricanes Gustave and Ike, and they provided communications capabilities following Hurricane Katrina and during Washington State wildfires.


    Transition to Camp Murray

    The unit remained at Boeing field for nearly 60 years, relocating to Camp Murray in 2009. Then-Lt. Col. Charles Jeffries was the squadron commander and then-Maj. Rob Siau was the detachment commander during the transition.

    Today, the Washington Army National Guard’s 96th Troop Command uses the building at the edge of Boeing Field as an Armory.

    The unit’s conversion to its cyberspace operations mission followed shortly after its move to Camp Murray. At first, the unit was redesignated in 2011 as the 143rd Information Operations Squadron. Later, it took on the designation as a cyberspace operations squadron.

    In 2016, the 143rd moved into its current home on Camp Murray following an extensive building renovation.

    When Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Nolan returned to the 143rd after serving for many years in the 111th Air Support Operations Squadron, he was impressed by the personnel in the cyberspace operations field. “You have some of the brightest minds in the industry working to make the military networks and weapon systems stronger and more secure,” said Nolan. “It’s exciting to be involved in that part of it. Some of the state missions that we’ve done to strengthen their security, to protect our infrastructure– it’s amazing.”

    “We have intact teams that operate at a high level,” said Readnour.

    Nolan says that some members of the 143rd have established careers in the high tech industry and don’t join for the paycheck. Rather, they join because of the opportunity to serve and to do things that they can’t do in their civilian jobs, he says.

    Despite the changes to the squadron, Nolan sees continuity from the combat communications mission to the cyberspace operations mission. “The previous mission was tactical communications,” said Nolan. “We would go on site and set up pretty much our own network, we would provide phones, computers, secure and non-secure, for a location—that infrastructure part. We were more focused on putting in the backbone and providing the links for people. Now we are using some of the same router/switch/firewalls technology, but now looking at it from a different perspective. Before, we put it in place. Now, we’re looking at what vulnerabilities exist in the system, but also how to fortify the network to make sure the data we’re passing doesn’t get gathered by the enemy or bad organizations. It’s both sides of the spectrum. Before you were worried about providing the link, and now you’re checking the link, verifying the link, checking the strengths and weaknesses of it. I would say that a lot of the experience from the infrastructure side of it is very beneficial to this. On the cyber side, some understanding of how the infrastructure of a network works is pretty important.”

    The 143rd found itself on the leading edge of innovation in the military cyberspace operations field. “During the transition to cyber operations, the squadron has adapted to focus areas within the defensive cyber operations arena to the current cyber hunt mission,” says Longoria, the unit commander. Longoria credits “the resiliency and flexibility of the airmen by adapting to the varied missions.”

    Cyberspace operations airmen of the squadron stand out as “pioneers in this critical and continuous evolving mission area,” says Longoria.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 08.27.2021
    Date Posted: 08.27.2021 20:19
    Story ID: 404098
    Location: CAMP MURRAY, WA, US 

    Web Views: 818
    Downloads: 1

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