Command post: Dover’s central nervous system

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- When was the last time you thought about your nerves? Not the anxious, butterflies-in-the stomach feeling before your PT test, but the cells that carry electrical impulses throughout your body. Was it when you stubbed your toe, or had pins and needles shooting up your leg because you sat cross-legged too long?

Nerves transmit information gathered at the extremities up the spine and to the brain. There, a network of billions of nerves work to interpret that information and decide a course of action. With a decision made, nerves carry that signal to the appropriate parts of the body to enact the brain’s will, perhaps flexing or relaxing muscles and causing hormones to be released.

In many ways, Dover AFB is like a living being: each part fits seamlessly creating a well-oiled machine. Freight is transported, stored, loaded and flown to and from the places its needed most. Aircraft are routinely inspected and maintained to ensure peak functionality. Each stage is reliant on mutual trust for close peers and other shops. When one part of the continuum staggers, the entire process suffers.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Abraham Lincoln. Similarly, a base that does not work together cannot not function.

But, how do all the parts function together so flawlessly?

Just like the human brain, Dover AFB has a central organization that handles the constant flow of information, interprets appropriate actions and directs information to the people who need to know. The Command Post houses three separate agencies, each focused on a certain part of the mission. Together, these collocated agencies – Command and Control Operations, the Maintenance Operations Center and the Air Terminal Operations Center – ensure each cog in the wheel – maintenance, aerial porters, aircrews, airfield management and other agencies – aligns in a way that optimizes time and resources and ensure mission success.

Command and Control Operations

C2 operators like Staff Sgt. Thomas Ozman are the ears of the base. All incoming information comes through them; whether it’s an emergency notification, a local law enforcement notification or a UFO sighting, it all comes through them.

This section acts as the focal point for any emergency broadcast notification able to organize a full-force response team in a moment’s notice.

“If something really bad happens, we are there to notify the base, report information up the chain to Air Mobility Command or even all the way up to the president in certain situations,” Ozman said. “As the commander’s trusted agents, we can even perform many of these tasks on our own authority. It really means a lot to have that much trust, and it’s something we can’t take lightly.”

The team conducts 24-hour operations, monitors all installation assets that leave the base and tracks all incoming and outbound military cargo aircraft. They maintain crew notifications to make sure they have had appropriate rest and are ready on time to maintain tight schedules.

Inside several large binders around the C2 Operations section reside dozens of checklists, which provide step-by-step procedures to handle situations ranging from weather advisories and natural disasters to overdue aircraft and mass casualty events.

“You won’t last very long in this job if you can’t think on your feet.” Ozman said. “We have such a large range of information that we deal with every day. From UFO sightings, DUIs and people getting in trouble to in-flight emergencies and extreme weather hazards, we get it all. It’s our job to make sure the right people know the right information as soon as possible.”

It becomes evident as one walks around the room that the desks form a triangle. A clockwise movement reveals the next section of the triad.

Maintenance Operations Center

MOC personnel monitor and coordinate sorties, maintenance and execution of the maintenance schedules. They coordinate with the maintenance units acting as trusted agents of the maintenance group commander ensuring resource management, adherence to daily operations schedules and other mission priorities.

Only journeymen selected by maintenance group leadership are eligible to work in the MOC. They need to have a good understanding of each maintenance shop, what they do, and how they fit into the overall maintenance mission, and they have to have a good working relationship with all of them. If selected, these Airmen will be assigned to the MOC for three years.

“Our job really requires multi-directional communication,” said Tech. Sgt. Brian Nash, 436th Maintenance Group senior weapons systems controller. “We are in constant communication with each maintenance shop to keep them updated and find out if they’re running into any issues. At the same time, we’re working with ATOC and C2 to make sure everything is moving and on time.”

MOC members also track the aircraft themselves, ensuring flight fitness for all Dover aircraft and all aircraft inbound and outbound for the installation. They track all mechanical issues, which parts are needed for repair, when they’ll get there and when the plane will be operational again.

“I think most maintenance Airmen probably don’t see 98 percent of what we do here,” Nash said. “They think we just control maintenance tracking. To be honest, I’ve worked back-shop, flightline, test cell and [at the isochronal inspection dock], but I never realized how much MOC does until I got here. It definitely changed my perspective a lot.”

Air Terminal Operations Center

Another clockwise rotation reveals ATOC, which is responsible for coordinating each unit within the aerial port to ensure freight is offloaded, staged, transported and loaded properly and at the right times. Just as with MOC, the sequence of events must flow smoothly and match up with the efforts of both C2 and MOC.

“Our coordination with APS is extremely important,” said Staff Sgt. Kelly Santucci, 436th Aerial Port Squadron senior controller. “It’s our responsibility to send the maximum amount of cargo without busting deadlines. Without us, they wouldn’t know when to act and we wouldn’t be able to keep the tight schedule we have.”

ATOC members need to have an intimate understanding of aerial port operations and how each section contributes to overall mission accomplishment. For this reason, only staff sergeants, and occasionally an experienced senior airman here or there, are selected to work in ATOC.

“In ATOC, we get to see the bigger picture,” Santucci said. “Each shop, each position gets to focus on their little piece of the puzzle. We have to look at the whole puzzle. Our puzzle overlaps with MOC’s puzzle and C2’s puzzle. When you step back, you get to see how well everything fits together, and how connected the base really is.”

This interconnection isn’t easily achieved though. It requires constant vigilance by everyone in that room and clear communication with every agency around the base they work with.

The amazing thing about the Command Post communication is the relationship between order and chaos. Mid conversation, the phone rings. While on the phone, everyone is listening to everyone else. During a candid conversation, a voice rings out, “ATOC, MOC,” announcing a notification coming from C2. One ear is always kept open.

The dynamic environment is nearly never at rest, and even on slow days, everything can change in a moment’s notice.

“In our world, slow is good.” Ozman said. “It means nothing bad is happening. We can never let our guards down though, because in a moment’s notice, we have to be able to get everyone together and respond to any situation in full force.”