First in, last out — of Poland

by Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Tester
1st Combat Communications Squadron

Members of the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing’s 1st Combat Communications Squadron were deployed to Powidz Air Base, Poland, in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a demonstration of the United States’ ongoing commitment to the collective security of NATO and European allies.

As the Air Force’s most highly decorated non-flying unit, the 1st CBCS is no stranger to this type of operation. Part of the AGOW’s suite of “Expeditionary Airfields on Demand” capabilities, the men and women of the 1st CBCS are tasked to deploy and establish communications, air traffic control and landing systems anywhere in the European and African theaters within 72 hours.

The six-person team at Powidz provided a secure command and control platform to support flying operations for aircraft from the 182nd Airlift Wing, Illinois Air National Guard. Within hours of “boots on the ground” in Poland, they had turned an empty building into a fully functional operations center.

“Working with the guard has been a great experience and has really challenged me,” said Staff Sgt. Megan Thorlund, 1st CBCS data lead. “They do not utilize many of the active-duty networks and systems we do, so there have been connectivity and compatibility issues, which we have been able to work through. It makes us better in the long run and reinforces the ‘total force’ concept.”

By providing air-to-ground communications to the aircrews, as well as a secure reachback and flight planning capability, this small team ensured deployed aircrews can conduct bilateral exercises with Poland and the neighboring Baltic states to include practicing low-level flight training, touchdowns at unimproved landing zones and airdrop training of both cargo and personnel.

“I’m extremely impressed by the efforts of 1st Combat Communications Squadron personnel deployed to Poland,” said Lt. Col. Jack Harman, Aviation Detachment commander at Powidz. “With only six people, they coordinated all deployed communication requirements for seven C-130s and 176 personnel. They enabled U.S. units to maintain a continuous presence in Eastern Europe, displaying America’s commitment to collective security in the region and bolstering Poland’s ability to integrate within NATO. This team serves as an example of professionalism and combat communications capability.”

In addition to supporting mission objectives, the team has organized and participated in three different community outreach events. Doing so demonstrates a commitment to the Polish community as NATO partners. Likewise, the local town of Kleczew has adopted the team and hosted them as mentors for their high school students and honored guests for their Polish Independence Day celebration where the town mayor praised their continued support.

From providing top-notch communications capabilities for flying operations to strengthening partnerships with allies, this team has done it all. But that’s just another day on the job when the motto is “First In, Last Out!”

(Second Lt. Thomas McKenzie, Master Sgt. Albert Black, Staff Sgt. Neal Willoughby and Senior Airman Richard Eickholt contributed to this article.)