SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – Across the Air Force Airmen banded together to evacuate approximately 120,000 American citizens and Afghan evacuees during Operation Allies Refuge from the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan.
The operation itself, to date, is the largest noncombatant evacuation operation of its kind in Air Force history.
When one thinks of an evacuation, the envisioning in their mind may be of security forces personnel ensuring safety and aircraft being expertly flown, but those are only a couple color pallets in the artfully crafted total picture. Enter the professionals of the 375th Communications Support Squadron Tether team.
“The Tether Team is a team of developers within the Conjure Software Factory who were tasked to develop an application called Tether,” said Tech. Sgt. Lavelle Burgess, 375th Communications Support Squadron product manager.
”The purpose of Tether is to automate the collection of Air Mobility Command aircraft positional data and provide it to the Unified Data Library (UDL). The reason this is important is that other Combatant Commands use the UDL for command and control purposes and for mission planning, but could not view MAF aircraft in the UDL. Being able to see AMC aircraft in their systems can influence Combatant Command mission planners because they know what resources are available in a particular area.”
Within a decoration citation, the Tether team were lauded for unprecedented technical prowess during the fielding of Air Mobility Command’s most innovative command and control tool in history.
“Prior to Tether going live, I believe that the evacuation process was somewhat difficult because the tracking of aircraft going into and out of Afghanistan was incomplete,” said Burgess. “Air Mobility Command aircraft data was used to coordinate the movement of 120,000 refugees out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. Mission planners were able to forecast and prepare to move evacuees, minimizing time on the ground in harm’s way, waiting to board aircraft.”
As the Air Force continues to evolve, so do the tools used to handle the nation’s business. The Tether team converted the previously manual task of migrating aircraft mission, tail number and ground positioning data to a fully automated process.
“The Tether Application was still in development when Operation Allies Refuge began,” Burgess said. “The team worked extended hours to rapidly complete development of the application as fast as possible. There were some external agencies that we needed to collaborate with to gain access to aircraft positional data feeds to ensure that the correct data was obtained and sent over securely to the UDL. The Tether Team initially provided positional updates to the UDL in 15 minute time intervals, but further refined the process to get near real-time status updates.
This advent in operations allows Air Force senior leaders to make relevant data-driven decisions during the humanitarian crisis. By the time of award presentation, the Tether team was able to positively affect more than 270 sorties. Members of the 375th CSPTS were thrilled by the hard work, dedication and ingenuity of those under their command.
“I feel extremely grateful to be able to work with such an amazing team,” said Master Sgt. Alex Mendez, AMC software operations flight chief. “Our developers are incredibly talented and they amaze and inspire me on a daily basis. The team was able to get critical information to decision-makers during a crisis so that they could make data-driven decisions and save lives. They worked long-hours to field the Tether application as quickly as possible and I’m so proud of what they accomplished.”
The sentiments of Mendez were reiterated by Col. Chris Robinson, 375th Air Mobility Wing commander.
“The Airmen of the 375th Communications Support Squadron Conjure Team continue to astonish us with the capabilities they provide the Joint Force,” said Robinson. “They built new software enabling machine to machine transfer of real-time data from combat aircraft to provide a display for decision makers. This fusion of data, systems, and situational awareness allowed Command and Control of forces at a speed and accuracy not possible before. Their hard work ultimately saved lives and expedited the evacuation of over 120,000 people. It has certainly not gone unnoticed and has been recognized by the AMC Commander and Chief of Staff of the Air Force. I am extremely proud of them.”
The initiation of this new process was paramount, not only in the expeditious completion of this formidable operation requirements, but will undoubtedly be used for years to come.
“It feels amazing to be recognized for the hard work the team put towards getting Tether up and running,” said Burgess. “The team wasn’t on the ground or the flight line, but we were able to contribute to the operation in a meaningful manner. Knowing that we helped get thousands of people out of a dangerous situation makes me proud of what we do in Conjure.”