1st CMXS decommissions HF comm equipment, saves AF $5M

by the 1st Communications Maintenance Squadron

In early spring 2011, the 1st Communications Maintenance Squadron was tasked with removing 21 high-frequency antenna systems located at Royal Air Force Croughton and Barford St. John.

RAF Croughton is a U.S. Air Force communications base in Northamptonshire, England. It is home to the 422nd Air Base Group and operates one of Europe’s largest scope command HF antenna sites and military switchboards, processing approximately one-third of all U.S. communications in Europe. The radio site at RAF Barford St. John has been used for communications purposes since World War II.

The decommissioning efforts started 14 months ago when Scope Command began upgrading HF global communications system antennas, in service since the 1980s, with less maintenance intensive systems.

The 1st CMXS dispatched cable/antenna theater maintenance teams between 2011 and 2012 for a phased decommissioning approach. In 2011, 10 HF antennas were removed, facilitating installation of five new antenna systems. Late this spring, the 1st CMXS was again called upon to remove 11 HF antennas and complete the decommissioning efforts at both U.K. sites.

In April, Master Sgt. Mark Malloy led a team of five cable and antenna maintainers and two vehicle operation specialists on a 30-day decommissioning trip. The team endured austere weather and ground conditions, working through the U.K.’s coldest spring since 1989 and worst rain fall totals in more than 100 years. The combination of hail, freezing rain and wet ground made for slow, sometimes treacherous, conditions for working aloft – frequently above 90 feet.

Upon arriving at the site, Malloy went over his plan of attack with his team and within two hours had the first antenna on the ground. The 422nd Communications Squadron’s cable antenna work center took advantage of this opportunity to augment the 1st CMXS with three personnel, gaining vital on-the-job training while also providing additional manpower to the 1st CMXS team. Assistance was also provided by the SERCO Group, which transported and disposed of $306,000 worth of materials to RAF Molesworth.

“I was truly amazed when the team arrived and, within a couple hours, had the first antenna on the ground and began the disposal process,” said Master Sgt. Steven Haro, 422nd Cable Antenna Systems NCOIC. “Even with less than ideal weather and ground conditions, the team continued an exceptionally fast work pace, which kept them well ahead of schedule.”

Despite weather conditions, the can-do attitude of the entire team increased productivity exponentially, reducing a 55-day project to 30-days, saving $19,000 in temporary-duty costs. The team also coordinated turning more than 30 HF antenna support poles to local farmers to rebuild a bridge used for farm access, saving $154,000 in disposal costs and strengthening community relations.

By the time the team finished the project, they traveled more than 1,100 miles and removed one weather intercept loop array, two low take-off, three rotatable log periodic and five high take-off HF antenna systems. They also removed 42 60-foot antenna support poles and 800 feet of fence and disposed of 12.5 tons of materials.

The 1st CMXS, part of the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing, is a hand-selected team of communications maintenance experts that provide specialized maintenance support and emergency restoration for Department of Defense communications and information systems throughout the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of responsibility.

“This HF decommissioning team is a perfect example of the technical expertise and professionalism of the 1st CMXS Dragons,” said Maj. Angie Freeman, 1st CMXS commander. “By having 1st CMXS perform this decommissioning, we saved the Air Force $5 million in contractor fees while paving the way for Air Force-wide HF system upgrades.”

(Editor’s Note: Master Sgt. Mark Malloy contributed to this article)