In 1966, Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Geoffrey Blainey coined the phrase ... tyranny of distance ... metaphorically referring to how distance and isolation shaped the history of one of earth’s most intriguing continents, Australia.
Today, members of the Air Force Technical Applications Center here are subjected to the tyranny of distance, but thanks to innovative Airmen, modern technology and state-of-the-art communications platforms, they are able to adapt and overcome the so-called tyranny to accomplish their nuclear treaty monitoring mission.
AFTAC’s Technical Support Squadron, commanded by Lt. Col. Dennis Uyechi, leads the way by providing a broad range of world-class operations support to the center’s various mission areas. His squadron of 145 active duty Airmen and 11 civilians operates and maintains the U.S. Atomic Energy Detections System, or USAEDS, to monitor foreign compliance with various international treaties limiting nuclear testing. His team of highly-skilled experts assists with detecting special events in the atmosphere, underwater, underground and in space to determine if the event is nuclear in nature.
December 18, 2015 - Airmen stationed at Detachment 421, Alice Springs, Australia, conduct maintenance at one of their seismic arrays in support of the Air Force Technical Applications Center’s nuclear treaty monitoring mission.(U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano, AFTAC)
The majority of TSUS detachments and operating locations are positioned overseas, with a handful scattered throughout the continental United States. Each location serves a specific purpose ranging in scope from airborne collection and satellite operations to special equipment maintenance and logistics support.
“TSUS supports six different AFTAC mission sets at our nine detachments and four operating locations,” said Uyechi. “That support is a mixture of operations and maintenance to AFTAC’s global network of sensors, the largest in the U.S. Air Force. If a suspected nuclear explosion occurs somewhere around the world, our Airmen get to work determining if the event has nuclear characteristics. Once further analysis is conducted, the information is reported to U.S. decision-makers at the highest levels of our government.”
To help them accomplish that mission, the squadron maintains a variety of partnerships ranging from support agreements with other Department of Defense components to international agreements with host nations, to leases and agreements with local civilian land owners.
“TSUS Airmen not only must be excellent technicians in their primary job; they are also ambassadors of AFTAC and are expected to positively represent the command and our mission around the world,” said Uyechi. “Specific activities the Airmen are involved in include maintaining and repairing special instruments, performing station upkeep like ground clearing and road access maintenance, and evaluating scientific data for both quality and content.”
Uyechi, a 1997 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate with a degree in Electrical Engineering, took command of TSUS in October 2015, the first officer to do so when the squadron was activated after AFTAC reorganized as a wing equivalent. He has visited all of his geographically separated detachments across the globe, and is particularly proud of how his squadron responded to two recent North Korean declared nuclear tests.
“The Airmen within our global network worked around the clock to provide headquarters with everything it needed to properly evaluate and analyze the situation as it unfolded,” said Uyechi. “My maintainers’ herculean efforts keep system data availability over 99 percent, which ensured the equipment was operational and ready to detect any event. My satellite operators jumped into gear, evaluating the situation with space-borne sensors. The WC-135 special equipment operators and technicians immediately began preparing flight plans and finalizing logistics to perform their airborne collection mission. All of these elements were synchronized in an impressively complex process, with their sole focus on getting data from the field back to AFTAC and the center’s network of national labs for further scientific analysis.”
While Uyechi and his leadership staff face typical work-related hurdles that any organization deals with on a daily basis, geographical separation seems to pose the greatest challenge.
January 23, 2015 - Airmen stationed at Detachment 460, Eielson AFB, Alaska, conduct maintenance at one of their seismic arrays in support of the Air Force Technical Applications Center’s nuclear treaty monitoring mission. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
“We operate in nine different time zones and have to diplomatically consider various cultural nuances with our international partners,” he said. “Those factors sometimes make it difficult to complete the simplest tasks such as conducting a staff meeting or responding to a last-minute request for information from higher headquarters. Email is great for one-way communication and distributing general information, but it’s not the best facilitator of real-time, multi-party conversations about emerging events. But, my Airmen in my squadron never fail to generate smart and innovative ways to overcome these challenges.”
Beyond the distance, geographical challenges, maintenance issues and cultural differences, Uyechi boasted about one common denominator that brings his squadron together: the Airmen.
“These scientific applications specialists, better known as 9S100s, are enlisted Airmen who are enormously intelligent and highly skilled,” he said. “They can diagnose complex problems and improvise workable solutions, which is critically valuable in situations where access to sites and equipment may be either limited or prohibitively expensive. It is a great privilege for me to be a part of AFTAC’s unique mission, and I am constantly impressed with the quality of my Airmen and their unwavering dedication to getting the mission done.”
“Our Airmen are the heart and soul of this mission,” said Col. Steven M. Gorski, AFTAC commander. “In addition to the great work they perform for the center, they are veritable ambassadors for the Air Force and represent our government as a whole by virtue of the work they perform in various countries around the world, sometimes under austere conditions. Their professionalism and technical knowledge are absolutely second to none.”
By U.S. Air Force Susan A. Romano, AFTAC
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