Hulman Field, Ind. --
For more than three years, the 181st has been making its transition into an Intelligence Wing. A major piece to completing the transition is nearly complete, as a fullyoperational Distributed Ground Station is only months away from being up and running. Once functioning, the 181st DGS will be a vital role in combat theaters globally.
"This has been an exciting time for the 181st Intelligence Wing," said Col. Chris Colbert, vice commander, 181st Intelligence Wing. "Our Airmen have continued to train and retrain for new missions and once the DGS is fully operational I know that "Racer" excellence will once again be felt throughout."
The base began its transition in May 2005 when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to move the F-16 aircraft from Hulman Field, Terre Haute, Ind. Since then, new missions like the Distributed Ground Station have brought new technology and new positions to the 181st. Many 181st Airmen who have worked with aircraft for years are now looking at the most technologically advanced positions dealing with satellite imagery, analysis, communications and state-of-the-art equipment, in the Armed Forces.
SrA Jared Menestrina, a 25-year-old member from Terre Haute, Ind., recently returned from his retraining at Goodfellow AFB, San Angelo, Texas and McConnell AFB, Wichita, Kan. Menestrina was one of the many 181st Airmen who went from working in the aircraft field to imagery analysis and are now returning to Hulman Field ready to jump into their new careers. "The school was difficult, but I was prepared for it," Menestrina explained. "Getting involved with this new mission was one of the best things I've ever done. The job is exciting on a daily basis and I am ready to be operational. Everyone around base is ready to be up and running and we are looking forward to putting our training into real-time situations." Menestrina explained in minor detail the daily job duties, but much of what DGS personnel will be working on is classified information. After successfully completing his school, he worked within a functioning unit at McConnell AFB getting on-the-job training to sharpen what he had learned in school. Sometimes working long hours, Menestrina stressed how much he enjoyed the working environment.
The successful training transition continues and Lt. Col. Kip Clark, commander, 137th Intelligence Support Squadron, has been impressed with wing personnel. He explained that the Airmen working in the Intel mission were once working in fuels, maintenance, Logistics Readiness Squadron or other areas on base and now they are giving Intel briefings.
"It's been nothing short of phenomenal," Clark said. "We have more Intel personnel at the 181st right now than any other Guard base."
At the end of this month, Clark explained that the Intel mission will be fully-operational. Unfortunately, while fully manned and trained the facilities at Hulman Field aren't up and running quite yet, so the entire DGS will deploy to McConnell AFB, Kansas to get the mission functioning using their equipment. The 181st will then carry their mission back to Hulman Field when the base's equipment is ready. In the meantime, 181st Airmen will continue to train and some will return from their initial training.
"We have a tremendous number of fulltime staff returning from their training at Goodfellow AFB and everyone is in very high spirits," said Maj. Matt Brown, commander, 181st Operations Support Squadron. "We have worked through training hiccups and we are nearly ready to be operational. That's what everyone is waiting for now."
The new mission's classified nature makes it difficult to explain to those outside the mission. The DGS works in tandem with several intelligence sources including unmanned aerial vehicles, manned aircraft and troops on the ground. Acting as central intelligence ciphering unit, DGS personnel at Hulman Field will be able to determine hostile threats and deal with those threats accordingly.
"Basically, when you see the highlight videos on places like CNN; that is what you will be looking at in these positions," Brown explained. "For example, everyone has seen the videos where you see the bombs going into a building, which is similar to the imagery. You can't get any closer to supporting the war efforts without actually having your boots on the ground."
The new mission has created several new positions and while many have been filled by Airmen retraining, there are still several positions available. The DGS currently has more than 350 personnel and once fully operational there will be more than 400. The 181st has stepped into the highest technological age of warfare once again and when the DGS is operational it will be a 24/7, 365 days a year information hub for much of what goes on throughout the world.