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247th IS Airmen support operations in Last Frontier

From left to right: Tech. Sgt. Johnathan Thompson, Senior Airman Deniea Turner, and Staff Sgt. Michelle Aguilar-Villafuerte, all members of the 247th Intelligence Squadron, Tennessee Air National Guard, pose with the Chugach Mountains in the background May 12, 2021 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. All three Airmen were in Alaska to support active-duty operations, and to learn new skillsets to bring back to their home unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Wynn)

From left to right: Tech. Sgt. Johnathan Thompson, Senior Airman Deniea Turner, and Staff Sgt. Michelle Aguilar-Villafuerte, all members of the 247th Intelligence Squadron, Tennessee Air National Guard, pose with the Chugach Mountains in the background May 12, 2021 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. All three Airmen were in Alaska to support active-duty operations, and to learn new skillsets to bring back to their home unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Wynn)

NASHVILLE, TN -- Four thousand miles from home, a group of 247th Intelligence Squadron (IS) Airmen from the Tennessee Air National Guard, are participating in a unique, multi-year mission to augment active duty troops in real-world intelligence operations.

Stationed at the Alaska Missions Operations Center, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, 247th IS Airmen are exposed to high-tempo challenges and learn skills not easily acquired back home at Berry Field Air National Guard Base, Nashville, Tennessee.

“It really gives them the hands-on training that they need to come back and pass on to our enlisted folks,” said Chief Master Sgt. Shane Robinson, 247th IS senior enlisted manager. “When they come back here, they’re considered subject matter experts.”

The program, coordinated by the Reserve Guard Integration Office (RGIO), allows Air Guard units to augment the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mission during personnel shortfalls.

The 247th IS has maintained a win-win partnership with the RGIO for several years, steadily supplying top troops to help the NSA when needed, while giving Airmen the opportunity to enhance their career and skillset.

“A tour like this can be used as a platform to possibly extend an NSA career in uniform or as a civilian,” said Lt. Col. Kirk Larson, 247th IS commander. “It may not always be rainbows and butterflies up there, but it’s a great location nine months out of the year, and when they come down, they’ve in essence punched their ticket for future career opportunities throughout the intelligence community.”

Senior Airman Deniea Turner, a 247th IS target digital network analyst who’s been in Alaska for six months, is enjoying her experience so much she’s in recruitment mode. “I’m currently trying to convince some of my counterparts at the 118th [Wing] to come here,” she said. “I feel it’s important to experience multiple shops to better develop both tradecraft and leadership skills.”

The program’s success is evident in feedback from active-duty leadership, who frequently contact the 247th IS to compliment the guardsmen who have seamlessly integrated with their troops.

“The squadron commander there recently said we’ll take all that we can get if they’re all of this caliber,” said Larson. “You cannot put into words the fact that you have a four-star general being briefed by one of our Airmen.”

Strictly voluntary, the program relies on the lure of career enhancement and spending several years in a unique location.

“Alaska in itself is full of different adventures that you would not get in other states,” said Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Thompson, a 247th IS senior target development network analyst. “Couple that with working with professionals that have lived the mission for a multitude of years, and you end up with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”