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Communications Squadron rolls out sweeping upgrades

(U.S. Photo Illustration/ Senior Airman Ryan Lackey)

(U.S. Photo Illustration/ Senior Airman Ryan Lackey)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- The Department of Defense decided last year to implement force-wide computer hardware upgrades that utilize the latest Windows 10 operating systems, with the U.S. Air Force conversion to be completed by March 31, 2018.

The technology standardization initiative addresses a number of issues the old systems could not handle properly, such as improved cybersecurity measures, streamlining networks and improving user productivity.

“Air Force leaders directed their major commands to provide solutions to implement the upgrade to Windows 10, per DoD direction,” said Tech. Sgt. Dwayne Harrell, 92nd Communications Squadron client systems NCO in-charge. “It’s newer technology that possesses less operational security vulnerabilities and will uplift us to an industry standard level.”

With Fairchild having more than 4,000 computers that needed to be replaced with upgraded hardware and software across 28 squadrons, it presented several complex problems to the unit.

The first issue was the logistical puzzle.

“We had our warehouse packed to the rafters with all the systems and parts,” said Airman 1st Class Daniel Nathansen, 92nd CS asset manager. “We couldn’t move the materials as we wanted; the big challenge was coordinating with 144 separate equipment custodians, who are in charge of every material resource in a unit. We all had deadlines to meet, so it was a challenge logistically.”

The second hurdle was the software. The new systems had to get installed with USAF software, which can take considerable time to prepare.

“We had to overcome how to image the new computers in a timely manner,” said Tech. Sgt. Gerard Brady, 92nd CS network administrator. “The old way was one at a time via CDs and it’d take nearly an hour per computer, 10 at a time, but we innovated a new method that sped us up nearly 1,000 percent.”

Brady and his team helped develop a method using a networked software installer, Windows Deployment Server, allowing a system to be reimaged remotely, automatically and wherever the system is hooked in.

“It has saved us incredible amounts of time, upwards of 110 man-hours in under two months,” Brady said. “Instead of doing 10 installs at a time, we do 60-80 at a time now and are only limited by the network.”

The new technology also allowed specialized software installs, available on the base’s network and specific to certain areas or offices, enabling the 92nd CS to remotely handle software management, Brady added.

Manpower limitation became the third issue.

“We have specific individuals that possess all the permissions necessary to complete the install of the new computers onto the base’s network,” said Airman 1st Class Dalton Releford, 92nd CS client systems technician. “We lost some of these Airmen to other assignments early on, leaving us with only a few people that could approve access during this time.”

A five million dollar installation of thousands of computers across an entire base is a huge task to accomplish, even with time saving innovations, for a handful of Airmen. However, CS leadership had a novel idea to solve that issue.

“We took on 19 augmentees from across our squadron and formed five “Tiger Teams” to tackle the installs,” Harrell said. “The augmentees didn’t have permissions, but provided all the manpower and technical knowhow to complete installs up to the last step, which helped immensely.”

Fairchild’s install began in May and was given a completion date of Dec. 1 for the conversion by Air Mobility Command; yet the leadership at the 92nd CS felt they could do better than that, despite the hardships.

“We internally set up our own suspense date of Nov 13,” Harrell said. “We hit that mark with a bunch of Airmen that had little to no experience doing a massive roll-out like this. It was … just wow. It was truly awesome to watch these Airmen hit the mark we set for ourselves.”

Airmen of the 92nd CS were the first in AMC to complete their installation, beating deadlines by 17 days for AMC and 138 days for the USAF, ensuring the base is mission-ready for rapid global mobility … now.