51st Combat Communications Squadron hosts first all-female Flexible Communications Package employment

  • Published
  • By Nadine Wiley De Moura
  • 688th Cyberspace Wing Public Affairs

The 51st Combat Communications Squadron hosted Exercise Athena Alliance, the first all-female employment of the Flexible Communications Package, Feb. 28 through March 18, 2022, at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

The 51st CBCS resourced female Airman from five units across Robins Air Force Base to augment the exercise to fill the entire 22 person complement. Participating units included the 51st Combat Communications Squadron, 52nd Combat Communications Squadron, the 5th Combat Communications Support Squadron, the 78th Air Base Wing Communications Directorate and the 461st Air Control Networks Squadron.

“We augmented across five units, with representation from all three wings on Robins Air Force Base, to fill the team,” said Maj. Ryan Headrick, 51st Combat Communications Squadron director of operations.

“Through planning this effort, I found it challenging to outfit an entire team with an entirely female complement. This further highlighted how underrepresented females are in the communications field and has been a great conversation driver on evening out the field.”

Females have been historically underrepresented in combat and tactical communications roles.

The exercise was aligned with the Department of Defense observation of Women’s Heritage Month to serve as an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the capabilities of women warriors.

“This has given females more of an opportunity to lead whether in their own shop or work centers. There was more (leadership opportunities) than there normally are,” said 1st Lt. Erika Reinertson, 52 CBCS, network systems officer in charge and exercise team lead.

“Seeing people come out of their shell, take charge, and be less passive has been meaningful. The connections made have been powerful as we now have a broader support system of females in communications.”

The top objectives of the field exercise were to establish and host NIPR and SIPR services over SATCOM (satellite communications), ensure continuity of communications by executing the PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency) concept utilizing beyond-line-of-sight High Frequency radios and operating multiband line-of-site radios.

“This exercise has given me the power and motivation to stand out,” said Senior Airman Riana Greene, 461 ACNS, Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System network operator.

“It is easy to forget power when you are small and have little representation like you. In communication squadrons, there aren’t many females. Often people step in and take over for us.”

Out here we are empowered to operate and take over, Green added.

The historical exercise was visited by White House Communications Agency Commander Col. Joy Kaczor and Air Combat Command A6 Director of Cyberspace & Information Dominance Col. Heather Blackwell.

“I enjoyed learning everyone else’s job and seeing how everything interconnects,” said Staff Sgt. Ashely Jones, 78th Communications Directorate storage supervisor. “The most meaningful thing was the togetherness. We felt like one team where none of us felt like outsiders or felt differently.”

The 51st CBCS falls under the 5th Combat Communications Group and is headquartered at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and is part of the 688th Cyberspace Wing.

The 51st CBCS is charged with the mission to deliver flexible combat-ready Airmen and communications capabilities to meet the joint war-fighter and POTUS security requirements in any environment.

“The exercise was extremely successful as the team was able to establish their own communication bed down to include tents, generators and HVAC systems,” said Headrick.

“The team also established SATCOM connectivity across three platforms, hosted NIPR and SIPR services, line-of-site radios, and a high frequency connection to Fort Huachuca, Arizona.”

That level of partnership at the tactical level was a first for us, Headrick added.

“These ladies all stepped up to become multi-capable airmen. On the 22 person team, we had nine different Air Force Specialty Codes across communications and civil engineering. Each team member had to learn different roles to make the exercise a success.”