AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --- When senior leaders fly over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, a team comprised of six Airmen ensure they never lose the ability to communicate with others on the ground.
To accomplish this, U.S. CENTCOM and their subordinate commands rely on the 379th Air Expeditionary Squadron’s “Viper” team, who provide tactical airborne communications capabilities for military and civilian leaders.
“Our overall mission is to provide commanding generals and executives a constant uplink,” said Master Sgt. Richard Barragan, 379th ECS Viper team lead. “If they don’t have access to the outside world, it can be tough. They could miss out on some crucial decision making and correspondence.”
With aircrew training and specialized communication kits at their disposal, Viper team members are able to fly with top leaders and troubleshoot equipment if necessary.
“Once you’ve been selected, you go through typical aircrew training,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Snell, 379th ECS Viper team operator. “You spend a month in survival, evasion, resistance, escape training, emergency parachute and water survival training, physiological chamber training, and once you pass all that along with your flight physical, you are certified aircrew. From there, you spend a week at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base learning the communications kits.”
Some of the capabilities the team can create in flight include: commercial internet, non-secure internet protocol router, and secure internet protocol router access.
“We provide the battlefield command and control (C2) anywhere in the sky,” Snell said. “This allows commanders throughout the AOR to provide continuous C2 while airborne away from their desk, in positions where they wouldn’t have traditional communications. We’re able to go onto tactical aircraft and provide that C2 capability. There’s never a moment where those we support aren’t able to get ahold of troop commanders on the ground.”
Barragan said he hopes his team grasps the importance of what they do and the unique perspective that comes with being a part of the Viper team.
“You get to experience what it’s like to be a part of an aircrew … you’re a part of a close-knit crew.” He said. “Somehow, communication is driving every aspect of what we do. We’re truly at the tip of the spear.”