509th Communications Squadron ensures mission success during COVID-19

Airman speaks on the phone.

Senior Airman Pedro Asebedo, a 509th Communications Squadron client systems technician, calls a customer at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, April 15, 2020. The 509th CS, like others across the installation, started working in shifts to limit the number of personnel in work centers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dylan Nuckolls)

Airman writes on box.

Airman Seth Dismang, a 509th Communications Squadron client systems technician, labels a box of computer chargers at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, April 16, 2020. The 509th CS distributed the chargers to different units on base to support teleworking according to new social distancing guidance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dylan Nuckolls)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --

The mission of the 509th Communications Squadron is to provide superior communication services with first-class partner support, enabling the 509th Bomb Wing to generate and project deterrence through combat power.

Due to the COVID-19 response and the installation commander’s teleworking directive, a spotlight was put on the 509th CS to ensure members can safely practice social distancing by working from home and still have the computer access they need to accomplish the mission.

“In the last four weeks, we’ve had about 1,000 customers roll through here for touch maintenance, and that is just for the virtual private network,” said Lt. Col. Rachel Freestrom, 509th CS commander.

The virtual network is what Team Whiteman needs to telework and the touch maintenance included installs software patches and enables Wi-Fi abilities on computers for VPN access, according to Freestrom. All of these tasks quickly became a priority for the unit.

“Early on, there was in influx of folks who never teleworked before,” said Chief Master Sgt. Patrick Hackman, 509th CS superintendent. “The manpower to handle those customers were also getting pulled for other tasks.”

In addition to ensuring Airmen are able to telework, the 509th CS also collaborated with the 509th Medical Group to establish a new call center to triage and help patients virtually, keeping physical traffic in the clinic to a minimum.

“The medical group needed new communication channels for their response to COVID-19,” said Hackman. “Our folks quickly loaded and configured 25 computers and got them set up over at the clinic for the call center, all within a 24-hour timeframe.”

All the shops in the 509th CS are critical to ensuring the mission continues at Whiteman, not only for the B-2 Spirt Stealth Bomber, but also for all the supporting units, according to Freestrom.

“In general, communications enable every part of the mission,” said Freestrom. “It’s so seamless that you don’t realize you rely on it.”

The squadron not only needed to find new ways to support the mission but did so while complying with the wing leaders’ social-distancing directive.

“We split our shops into different shifts and have people work different days,” said Hackman. “Splitting the shops meant less manpower while the demand for support stayed the same.”

Hackman stressed that as social-distancing directives stay in effect, users should practice patience when trying to gain access to Air Force networks. If users experience issues with a computer or network access they should put in a trouble ticket.

“Don’t suffer in silence, call [us] and put your ticket in the virtual Enterprise Service Desk,” said Freestrom. “All of these tickets are being marked and rolled up to the Air Force so the enterprise level can trouble shoot and improve services.”

No matter the issue, the 509th CS stands ready to help Team Whiteman continue the mission. For communication issues, call the communication focal point at (660) 687-2666 and utilize the vESD application, located on the desktop of all government-issued computers.