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627th CS plays vital role in success of mission during pandemic

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The 627th Communications Squadron (627th CS) played an essential role in enabling members of Team McChord to work remotely during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

Many members of Team McChord, whose jobs were able to be conducted from home, began doing so to limit peoples’ exposure to others. The 627th CS increased their workload by enabling a shift in teleworking capabilities through the acquisition of laptops and virtual private network (VPN) certificates.

“One of the big hurdles that we ran into initially was that the Air Force wasn’t really set up to support the amount of people that were going to be teleworking through the VPN system,” said Senior Master Sgt. Ryan Brown, 627th CS plans and resources flight chief. “There was a lot of coordination between our unit and Air Mobility Command (AMC) to figure out how to move forward and try to find a way to get more VPN licenses and authorizations.”

Another issue they ran into was not everyone had laptops to use for telework and not everyone that had laptops had the VPN system enabled and configured. So, another initial surge in their workload was trying to educate people on how to use it.

The 627th CS acquired 100 additional laptops they distributed to various units across McChord, and enabled around 400 new VPN users by April 7.

In addition to the extra licenses acquired for laptop enabling, the 627th CS worked with Air Mobility Command to build a new VPN access location at JBLM for the influx of new users.

“Our technicians did a great job reloading and upgrading the new laptops with updated programs within a couple days, which is a lot,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christina Franks, 627th CS strategic planning and cyberspace operations section chief. “We normally don't do a hundred laptops like that within two or three days, so once we got them in, it was a primary focus on getting them set up and running so we could push them out to the units on McChord.”

On March 17, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) blocked streaming video services to ensure the availability for VPN required for telecommuting, and other official traffic access. There was also a limit placed on the continuous VPN connection time from 12 to 6 hours at a time. This change made sure people weren’t leaving their VPN connected for long periods of time while not being used thus allowing more people to connect.

Some units’ missions can afford to slow down temporarily if something like a pandemic warrants it, but the 627th CS is responsible for several different systems that are vital to the mission of Team McChord and therefore, is not one of them.

In the midst of acquiring new laptops and enabling new VPN users, 627th CS Airmen continued to maintain and operate the non-secure internet protocol router (NIPR) and secure internet protocol router (SIPR) systems that McChord’s computers operate on, the file servers on those networks where people store data and information, and the SharePoint site for Team McChord.

“I am so proud of how the Airmen of the 627th CS have, and continue to, make McChord’s mission possible for all of our joint teammates,” said Maj. Frank Jamerson, 627th CS commander. “Our squadron has some really special Airmen who stepped up and worked around the clock to prepare hundreds of mission essential laptops to enable our telework capability during lockdown. I’m proud of their ability to operate resiliently with an increased workload, especially under unprecedented circumstances.”