Cable Dawgs rescue Yokota comms
YOKOTA AIRE BASE, Japan -- Beneath Yokota Air Base, Japan, in a network of tunnels big enough for one or two men to fit in, runs thousands of feet of copper cable. This infrastructure powers communications in an organization that cannot function without them.
"We're the backbone for anything that has to happen cyber-wise," said Master Sgt. Dustin Hemingway, 374th Communications Squadron cable & antenna NCO I charge. "Any security, any alarms, any signal."
Without cables there are no communications, and without communications there is no mission. Yokota's airlift mission would come to a halt.
"The airfield systems management folks called me and they said 'Hey, a lot of our frequencies are going down,'" Hemingway said, "or, 'There's a lot of static on the line. It works, then it won't work.' The 374th and the 730th maintenance squadrons were going out, and the weapon's storage alarms were going out."
On August 7, 2015 the cable shop discovered that there were problems with a major communications cable that runs across the flight line. This cable powers communications for the Air Traffic Control Tower, Radar Approach Control, airfield systems, the Combat Arms Training and Marksmanship building and the alarms for the munitions storage building.
"So I sent the guys out and they just started popping manholes where all of our splices were," Hemingway said. "Eventually they found the two splices that were wet and corroded. The whole 1000 ft. plus was just saturated with water all the way down, so we had to cut that out to be replaced."
This damaged cable didn't just affect Yokota.
"The RAPCON that runs off of that cable feeds Atsugi and Yokosuka," said Staff Sgt. Zachary Aguiar, 374 CS cable and antenna systems supervisor. "There's one RAPCON that provides eyes in the sky for a large portion of other bases. When this was down, they had to schedule a major outage across the Pacific Air Forces."
The outage went so far as to affect Hawaii in some ways, Aguiar said.
"We responded by working 67 hours in 4 days in two manholes and multiple buildings," Hemingway wrote in an email, "to include Munitions and the ATC, during black flag conditions."
"I came home and slept for three hours and came right back in," Aguiar said. "The last day was a 17 hour day."
"The entire flight line and supported PACAF agencies were without communications and non-operational until we completed the two splices," Hemingway wrote. "To make matters worse we had to splice 15 year old Japanese cable to American cable with different color codes and standards. I've been doing this for 17 years and this was a nightmare."
1,800 individual splices had to be made down in the manholes. It was the kind of work that can get confusing, according to Hemingway.
"Your mind starts playing tricks on ya," said Hemingway, "especially when you're doing it at night. It usually takes two guys down there, just to keep each other sane if nothing else. They help keep each other on track with what goes where."
In addition to the challenge of splicing American to Japanese cables, the stress of the importance of the job and the time constraints were tough, Hemingway said. The repairs were successful despite all of this.
If the 374 CS hadn't done their job, the cable and the mission would have failed altogether, and not just Yokota's mission. Jobs like the flight line cable repair, with impact reaching far beyond Yokota, are not unusual for the cable shop. The unit also provides airfield communications to Atsugi, Yokosuka, surrounding Japanese military and civilian airfields, and any aircraft in a 250 square mile radius. They maintain the antennas that provide ship-to-shore communications for any U.S. Navy in the entire Pacific Ocean, encompassing over 200 ships and 100 aircraft.
"Recently the USS Rushmore rescued 65 people who were in makeshift rafts up there in the Pacific Ocean," Hemingway said. "And the reason they can do that is their ship-to-shore capability which we provide through the antennas here in Japan."
Visiting the cable shop, one can see a painting of a muscular gray bulldog on the wall. A sawed-off hardhat is mounted to the wall to cover its head and at the bottom the mural reads "Cable/Antenna Dawgs." The Airmen in the shop talk, laugh, and tease each other in a good-natured way.
"I like the job." said Airman 1st Class Michael Tagiaforro, 374 CS cable and antenna systems technician. "I like that it's a physical hands on job. And I like when we're climbing there's a little danger involved."
Tagiaforro and Airman 1st Class Bruce Winsemius, 374 CS cable and antenna systems technician, both said that finishing a job gives them a significant sense of accomplishment.
"A lot of these guys live and breathe this," Hemingway said. "Maybe one out of 20 guys are like 'Hey this isn't for me.'" He pointed at pictures of the major cable repair and said, "But the majority of us, we're a brotherhood more than anything, and live for this kind of stuff right here."