688th Cyberspace Wingmen enhance National Military Command Center mission

  • Published
  • By Nadine Wiley De Moura
  • 688th Cyberspace Wing

688th Cyberspace Wingmen from the 38th Engineering Squadron provided direct support to the National Military Command Center in Washington D.C.

The Wingmen directly enhanced the joint staff and the Secretary of Defense’s execution of the NMCC mission by engineering and installing updated communication systems.

“For the past three and a half years, the 38th Cyberspace Engineering and Installation Group has sent engineering professionals to support the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Christopher Schlak, deputy chief, N2C3 Division, Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

“They were able to design and engineer updates to networks that support nuclear command and control links between the NMCC, senior DoD leadership, White House leaders and nuclear forces in the field.”

The National Military Command Center is located in the Joint Staff area of the Pentagon. The NMCC is responsible for generating Emergency Action Messages to launch control centers, nuclear submarines, recon aircraft and battlefield commanders worldwide.

Michael McCool, Department of the Air Force Civilian with the 38th Engineering Squadron was a lead systems engineer for the NMCC projects.

“We assessed the facility and found differences with current communications systems,” said McCool. “The first thing we did was provide an overview of how the systems were connected and picked the top five to fix.”

The project involved installing and upgrading a total of six networks.

The team worked to identify outdated legacy systems and outfitted the NMCC facility with systems that were in line with today’s security standards.

“It really was rewarding and perhaps more than other work we have done in the past since we had a lot more clear impact and results. Literally, in some cases we were building the network as we went along.”

The NMCC support team from the 38th Engineering Squadron are geographically based at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Due to the nature of the mission, the team was required to travel back and forth to the D.C area. for the last few years to work on the NMCC projects.

“We were there more than half of the year in 2019 and spent a significant amount of time there since we couldn’t work remotely,” said McCool.

McCool’s colleague Jeffery Iverson, another lead systems engineer for the NMCC projects said that despite the frequent commute, this mission was the greatest impact that he has driven while working in the Air Force.

“The systems that we are dealing with are critical to national defense,” said Iverson. “It is really important to have a lasting impact not only on the Air Force but for the whole national defense. That is very rewarding and the most important project I’ve worked on.”

For Iverson, the task also provided an opportunity for lessons learned.

“I would say some lessons learned were clearly defining expectation management to define what the scope of the project is and define lines of effort so that everyone is on the same page,” said Iverson.

The project also provided an opportunity to build a partnership with the 844th Communications Squadron, stationed at the NMCC.

“Working with the whole team over the last several years has been a great experience and I think of them as part of the NMCC family for all they’ve done and for how much time they spent with us,” said Alfredo Hernandez, Chief of the NMCC Operation Support Branch and Department of the Air Force Civilian.

“I would like to pass on my appreciation to the men and women of the 688th that provided superior mission support to the Nuclear Command and Control mission and personnel in the National Military Command Center.”

Their dedication and time spent away from family, culminated in us establishing a protected cyber terrain within our facilities boundary, ensuring the Chairman’s ability to execute his mission essential functions securely, Hernandez added.

The 38th Engineering Squadron is home to the Air Force's single largest concentration of Cyberspace Engineering expertise.

“The squadron's support to the National Military Command Center--the very nerve center supporting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, the President of the United States for matters of National Defense--is a perfect example of how the unit punches well above its weight class,” said U.S. Air Force Col. James Trachier, 688th Cyberspace Wing A/4/6 and 38th Cyberspace Engineering Installation Group commander.

“In simplest form, the job description of an engineer is to solve problems. The Honey Badgers of the 38th ES have decades' worth, or likely even centuries' worth, of combined engineering experience among them, making them uniquely suited to solve the unique problems for which our mission partners require solutions.”

In some cases the squadron had to reverse-engineer systems that have been online within the NMCC for decades as the first step for modernizing the capabilities those systems supported.

The institutional expertise was long since lost and the original vendors and manufacturers long since shuttered, Trachier added.

“I’ve been around engineering and installation teams’ work in the past and this team didn’t disappoint,” said Schlak.

“Their planning, work, and professionalism ensured the NMCC mission supporting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs never failed and the information technology systems they affected are ready to perform for years to come.”