WPC renovation enhances training capabilities

Story and photo by 2nd Lt. Christopher Diaz
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Most renovation projects can cost thousands of dollars. However, one organization in the KMC has started a project that has already saved them nearly a quarter of a million dollars annually — and they’re only in phase one.

For nearly three decades, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Warrior Preparation Center has been a training compound for U.S. and coalition forces, providing live, virtual and constructive environments seen downrange.

With accurate representations of air, space and cyber forces, the WPC essentially provides a giant video game to leaders who will operate in similar conditions while deployed.

Though the WPC consistently provides this vital training environment, reorganization in recent years has taken its staff of more than 100 personnel down to about 30. Responsible for setting up approximately 75 training events every year, the decrease in staff amplifies the challenges the WPC faces on a daily basis.

One of those challenges involves the different setup requirements, or network cabling needs, for the WPC’s various exercises.

The three different networks used are Secure or Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet or NIPRNet) and special networks needed for coalition partners. 

Ron Caprio, WPC director of support communications, said the team was losing valuable time and effort with the processes in place.

“The customer would come in and the room would be set up for SIPRnet,” Mr. Caprio said. “Then, the customer for the next event would need NIPRnet and want the tables re-arranged in a new configuration. The next would need cabling to support coalition participation, and then mixed for the next. My guys were constantly moving furniture, moving computers, pulling out cable and putting in new cable. That’s one thing I wanted to stop.”

And for Network Infra-structure Technician Tech. Sgt. William Branham, that meant long hours were needed to get the mission done.

“We were working 12- to 16-hour shifts, six days a week,” Sergeant Branham said. “For big events, it would take us two to three months just to set up. We were constantly rolling into the next event ― build it, fix it, tear it down, do it again. That’s what it was like for two years.”

After arriving to the WPC last summer, it didn’t take Mr. Caprio long to gather the team to solve three problems affecting both the mission and morale.

On top of having to re-arrange and reconfigure their set up for every event, the WPC was lacking a strong accountability system for equipment and a solid network to operate from.

“My plan was, number one,  we had to control our assets and establish an ADPE (automated data processing equipment) program,” Mr. Caprio said. “Second, let’s build static rooms ― at least a 90 percent solution for our customer. Finally, our cabling and network baseline project.”

With radio frequency ID tagging, the WPC has established total accountability of equipment by means of a scanning system.

After proposing it to their various customers, the team started the static room builds, avoiding the constant re-arrangement of 800 computers and various cells across four buildings on the compound.

Lastly, they are working on replacing 40 miles of cabling throughout the entire compound allowing all networks to be accessed with a simple jumper cable — all while still supporting on-going training events.

“It’s amazing what these guys have done,” Mr. Caprio said. “They’re a small shop with no infrastructure installation experience. They bought plywood, found re-usable panduit, removed all the old wire and rebuilt it all from scratch. This whole time we’ve still been supporting our customers.”

Looking back at the beginning of the infrastructure facelift, Master Sgt. Donald Anthony, the noncommissioned officer in charge of communications support, said the team has come a long way.

“We were constantly battling our own network. We were completely reactionary and really lacked the ability to get ahead of the game,” Sergeant Anthony said. “I can’t begin to imagine how many man-hours we’ve saved ourselves.”

After doing the math, the team calculated at least 12,000 man-hours per year has been saved due to the on-going overhaul.

Additionally, contractor overtime has been reduced by 75 percent and outside event augmentation by 50 percent. As the team expects these numbers to grow, they’ve already seen the intangible effects of their work.

“When I first got here, the pride in the WPC was not as great as it is now,” said

Tech. Sgt. Jesse White, noncommissioned officer in charge of network infrastructure. “Now with all of the blood, sweat and tears we’ve put into this, they have a lot of pride in what they’re doing. It’s a pretty neat environment when you have general officers come out for events and you know that the communications you set up is what they’re working with. These guys know the mission.”

Along with understanding the mission, Col. Franz Plescha, WPC commander, finds it equally important to communicate his gratitude toward the team for their dedication to success.

“We have been fortunate, solely due to the extensive man-hours and can-do attitude of the people who work here,” Colonel Plescha said. “As a commander, I am simply lucky to be able to work with the SC team we currently have. They take an extreme amount of pride in their work and I am equally proud to work alongside them.”

Although the team has made great strides already, they realize the job is not done and look forward to finishing the project they started in November 2010.

“Our progress has been phenomenal, but we still have a long way to go,” the colonel said. “We work with a great attitude and look forward to happy customers. If it is for the warfighter, we will make it happen.”