Business changes dramatically for air operations center

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The way business is done has dramatically changed at the 1st Air Force Air Operations Center here.

Five years after 9/11, the AOC, which is responsible for U.S. air defense, has made serious networking and communications upgrades to improve their processes.

"Our mission is to watch all the aircraft coming into the U.S. and make sure they are all friendly. And if they are unknown, we will scramble our jet fighters to identify that aircraft," said Tech. Sgt Christie Haynes, an air surveillance technician.

The AOC not only monitors all aircraft entering the U.S., but the aircraft flying within the country. New networking hardware and processes changed within the AOC to speed up the process of identifying aircraft.

"Before we only had our round radar scope monitors. Now (in addition) we have radios that allow us to contact all (Federal Aviation Administration) and military agencies at a moment's notice," said Master Sgt. Lynn Boop, superintendent of standards and evaluations for Southeast Air Defense, 1st Air Force.

Combined with the FAA, Army defense assets, rescue and recovery and other necessary agencies under one roof, the AOC can locate a suspicious aircraft and intercept it within minutes. Since 9/11, the AOC has tracked about 2,100 different tracks of interest within the United States.

The key the AOC found to gathering information on non-friendly aircraft is in centrally locating response assets within the AOC building. Instead of calling the FAA on the phone, a representative is a couple of yards away. Every agency needed to distinguish a track of interest is available within earshot.

"Before we had all these (scattered) bits and pieces , but because of 9/11 we have built up the ability to reach out and touch anybody at anytime to get necessary information to build the picture of what is going on in our air space," said Col. Rich Fullerton, Combined Air Operations Center battle commander, 1st AF.

New networking systems aren't the only additions to the AOC arsenal. The motivation to work has increased.

"Some people say this job can be kind of boring, but if you find that one track of interest that could be a threat, you feel good about yourself because you know you are going to make a difference," said Airman 1st Class Samuel Rivera, a tracking technician trainee deployed to Southeast Air Defense.

There are servicemembers working within the AOC today who were present when 9/11 happened; they remember what it was like to deal with a real-world scenario.

"9/11 really solidified what we are doing here. We really are the first line of defense against terrorism," Sergeant Haynes said.