Posted: 10:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, 2012

Local Guard unit in running for major Air Force award

Springfield unit has helped saved taxpayers millions.

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Local Guard unit in running for major Air Force award photo
Members of the Springfield-based 251st Combat Communications Group of the Ohio Air National Guard (which is in the process of being renamed the 251st Cyber Engineering Installation Group) install the first section of a 100-foot tower during a recent deployment to Forward Operating Base Ma sum Ghar, Afghanistan. Photo from U.S. Air Force.
By the numbers: The 251st Cyber Engineering Installation Group   photo
By the numbers: The 251st Cyber Engineering Installation Group

By Andrew McGinn

Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio —

A Springfield Air National Guard unit that recently saved taxpayers more than $24 million with the dismantling and relocation of four radars will learn in early 2013 whether it’s the top communications-electronics unit in the Air Force.

The 251st Cyber Engineering Installation Group — which has called Springfield home for 60 years — recently beat out 150 units for the Air Guard’s version of the Maj. Gen. Harold M. McClelland Award, the highest honor for communications-electronics units.

The win makes the group, which has helped redefine the National Guard in the 21st century with its nonstop deployments to war zones, eligible to compete for the award at the Air Force level.

“That’s the World Series for communicators,” said Col. Wade Rupper, acting commander of the group based at the Springfield Air National Guard Base.

The 251st, which is undergoing a name change from the 251st Combat Communications Group, already took home the prestigious Mission Support Trophy this year, beating out roughly 500 other units to be named the top nonflying unit in the National Guard.

The group manages a force of 900 personnel in six states and has been deployed nonstop since 2001.

“There’s not a time when I don’t have one unit in theater,” Rupper said.

“We are a 100 percent operational reserve,” he added. “We’re no longer a strategic reserve.”

At this time, 115 people from three squadrons under the 251st and a few from group headquarters in Springfield are at work in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

The 251st provides engineering installation, or EI, work at airbases and forward-operating Army bases, which entails erecting antennas and burying fiber-optic cables.

Along with the more immediate, tactical work done by Springfield’s 269th Combat Communications Squadron, they boast that no place on Earth is too remote for a world-class IT network.

It’s dangerous work — finding unexploded Soviet ordinance while digging in Afghanistan isn’t uncommon — but that’s only partially why the 251st has received acclaim.

“On average,” Rupper said, “we’re saving 65 percent over contracted-out projects.”

Look no further than the recent project to relocate four radars to the Miami Valley from Rome, N.Y.

As part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, four radar towers used by the Air Force Research Laboratory for advanced sensors research were to be dismantled in Upstate New York, then re-erected locally — three at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and one at the Springfield Air National Guard Base.

Initial bids by private contractors put the cost of the project at $25 million to $35 million. In the end, uniformed technicians with the Air Guard did it for less than $4 million.

“We’re here just to provide service to the nation,” Rupper said. “We don’t have shareholders to keep happy.”

Air Guard units in six states, including two under the local 251st, undertook the project, which included the construction in May 2011 of a 100-foot antenna tower at the Springfield airport. Except for the concrete foundation, which was poured by a contractor, all of the work locally was done by guardsmen.

Those efforts were honored recently as well, with the radar relocation project management team being named first runner-up for the Air Force’s 2012 Chief of Staff Team Excellence Award.

The 251st and the 269th soon will share a new home with the spring opening of the $11 million David L. Hobson Communications Complex along Ohio 794.

“These two units have always been in the mix nationally … We’re a proud group of people,” Rupper said. “We might talk a little smack, but we deliver the goods.”

The 251st last won the Air Force McClelland Award in 1981 — one of only three Guard units to take the award, Rupper said.

“I am very proud of the men and women of the 251st Cyber Engineering Installation Group,” said Maj. Gen. Mark E. Bartman, Ohio assistant adjutant general for Air. “This unit is fully engaged in the cyber mission for both the Air National Guard and the Air Force.”

These days few differences exist between a guardsman and an active-duty airman, despite the fact that 85 percent of personnel in the 251st have day jobs as well.

Of the 38 people at group headquarters in Springfield, four have received the Bronze Star the past two years for heroic achievement during combat, including even the chaplain, Jon Trainer.

While most of their work is done “inside the wire” of a base, at a forward-operating Army base in Afghanistan, for example, the “wire” might be nothing more than a chain-link fence.

“You’re a bit of a duck out there,” Rupper said.

Rocket, mortar and small-arms fire is common.

“You don’t know when it’s going to come or where it’s going to hit,” said Maj. Steve Dudash, who received a Bronze Star during his time with the 251st in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011.

However, Dudash, who’s now detachment commander of the 269th in Springfield, shrugs it off.

“It’s relative,” he said. “There are people facing a lot more.”

 
 

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