By Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 01, 2020
Airmen from the 606th Air Control Squadron prepare a deployed radar site for exercise Astral Knight 20 at Malbork Air Base, Poland, Sept. 18, 2020. Astral Knight 20 was a joint and multinational exercise where training focused on conducting integrated air and missile defense of various terrains. (Courtesy photo)
Senior Airman Joshua Olortegui, 606th Air Control Squadron theater deployable communications technician, learns he has been selected for promotion to the rank of staff sergeant at Malbork Air Base, Poland, Sept. 23, 2020. Two other 606th ACS airmen were given the same news while in the field during exercise Astral Knight 20. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Adam Jandrew, 606th Air Control Squadron assistant operations superintendent, performs fidelity checks on the exercise Link 16 network during exercise Astral Knight 20 at Malbork Air Base, Poland, Sept. 23, 2020. During AK20, the 606th ACS tested its new Theater Operationally Resilient Command and Control system which enables them to complete the mission with increased agility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
Members of the 606th Air Control Squadron radio frequency transmissions section conduct training on a high frequency coupler during exercise Astral Knight 20 at Malbork Air Base, Poland, Sept. 23, 2020. AK20 enhances our professional relationships and improves overall coordination with allies and partner militaries during times of crisis.(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
Airman 1st Class Devon Herre, 606th Air Control Squadron tactical satellite communications technician, works on a quadband large aperture antenna during exercise Astral Knight 20 at Malbork Air Base, Poland, Sept. 23, 2020. The QLAA can transmit data to the Control and Reporting Center at Aviano Air Base, Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cameron Hill, 606th Air Control Squadron plans and programs, deconstructs an AV211 antenna during exercise Astral Knight 20 at Malbork Air Base, Poland, Sept. 23, 2020. The 606th ACS was responsible for providing tactical command and control during the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
The 606th Air Control Squadron participated in exercise Astral Knight 20 Malbork Air Base, Poland, Sept. 13-25, 2020. Their mission was joint all-domain command and control.
Exercise Astral Knight 20 aimed to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities and overlapping operations into the integrated air and missile defense enterprise in Europe.
To bring that mission online, the squadron accomplished a number of firsts.
For one, the satellite communications team successfully fielded the Airbus Ranger 2400 antenna for the first time in the field. The team originally planned only to test the antenna, but over the course of the exercise it became the 606th ACS’s primary option.
“[The Ranger] became our saving grace,” said Senior Airman Joshua Olortegui, 606th ACS theater deployable communications technician. “That little guy lasted the whole time.”
The squadron’s biggest win, however, came in the form of the Theater Operationally Resilient Command and Control system, or TORCC.
The system allows the 606th ACS to accomplish their mission with a fraction of the manpower and equipment, and the squadron utilized it for the first time during Astral Knight 20.
“It’s been awesome,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Charles Wilder, 606th ACS assistant operations superintendent. “[There were] an unbelievable amount of lessons learned, which is really why we came out here.”
TORCC represents not only a new capability for the 606th ACS and U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, but a partnership-building tool.
“We can actually use TORCC to link in to existing partner-nation satellites,” Wilder said. “To my knowledge, [Astral Knight 20] is the first time in USAFE that we’ve linked into another country’s feed. The Polish have been great throughout this whole process.”
The large-scale success for the TORCC team during the exercise was made possible by hard work at the lowest level.
“Our two young cyber Airmen have been punching above their weight class this entire exercise,” Wilder said. “It makes me proud.”
As the 606th ACS returns from Poland and looks toward the future, they hope to build on their success.
“[Astral Knight 20] is just the first step,” Wilder said. “This represents a giant leap forward for command and control across the [Major Command].”
During an exercise that featured plenty of tangible mission success, it was the intangible human moments which stood out to its participants most.
Midway through the exercise, members of the 606th ACS took a break from the mission to don their masks and gather for some good news.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Robertson, 606th ACS commander, called in from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to congratulate the squadron’s newest staff sergeant selects.
“Where’s Airman Olortegui?” Robertson asked via a bluetooth speaker, pronouncing the name with two distinct syllables as Olor-tegui.
Olortegui sprang forward from the back of the group and took a moment before leaning in to the phone receiver.
“Sir, this is Airman Olortegui,” he said, putting special emphasis on his pronunciation as Uh-lor-teh-gee.
Robertson and the rest of the 606th ACS erupted in laughter.
“When you’re in garrison, you do get stuck in your own little bubble,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Richard Fox, 606th ACS deployed radar site lead. “When you come out to the field, you become a tight-knit family. You get to have fun together. It really pays dividends in the end.”
Evidence of this could be seen anywhere across the site.
More experienced noncommisioned officers and Airmen showed newer Airmen the ropes. Different sections intermingled. The back half of the satellite communications tent even became a community center of sorts, with Airmen gathering to play video games during breaks.
“I was getting my butt whooped,” Olortegui laughed. “I didn’t know people were that good.”
Before the group dispersed to return to the mission, Robertson got in one last word.
“Next time, don’t wait until you make staff sergeant to tell me how to pronounce your name!” he joked.