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McChord Reservist trades computer for parachute

by Master Sgt. Minnette Mason
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

9/12/2014 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- Computer issues can drive a person to the point of jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft. Well, that's the story of one Reservist with the 446th Airlift Wing.

Senior Airman Jeffery Gebhardt, a 446th Force Support Squadron client systems technician, is currently assigned to the Joint Communications Support Element at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida doing enough field work to be confused with an Army Ranger. 

"We're not just computer geeks anymore," said Senior Master Sgt. Cindy Thomas, Gebhardt's supervisor with 446th FSS, Client Systems.
Gebhadrt, who said, "I never really thought I would start doing this kind of stuff," has been with JCSE since November 2013. He is serving on long-term orders and is in no rush to come back, he added.

"I want to stay down here for at least three years--that's my goal," Gebhardt said. "I'm going to Airborne School in November, which is the Army jump school. Once you get that [opportunity], you have to stay for at least another year. And then you can start jumping out of planes, which is what I really want to do."

According to its Web site, the mission of JSCE is to "immediately deploy to provide en route, early entry, scalable [communications] support to the Regional Combatant Commands, Special Operations Command, and other agencies as directed." Essentially, Gebhardt is accomplishing his Air Force Reserve mission alongside Army, Navy and Marine Corps personnel. 

"It's a joint unit. Our command is Army right now," Gebhardt explained. "We all work together, and it works out pretty well. You learn about different branches and how they do communications." 

The Citizen Airman has been in the Reserve less than three years, but has accomplished several of his goals. He graduated from Central Washington University with a bachelor's degree in information technology, and has recently completed a master's degree program. As a civilian, he was a systems administrator before he got "extremely bored and wanted to do something else," he said.

"So I basically went on Google and was searching for communications units, and I found JCSE," Gebhardt explained. "They said they take Reservists on active duty orders, so I applied."

Thomas and others in Gebhardt's chain of command here soon learned of Gebhardt's interest in JSCE.

"All of a sudden, we were getting phone calls from the [point of contact] from the JSCE saying, 'Hey, we want this Senior Airman Gerbhardt, and we're going to be putting him on orders,'" Thomas said, with a smile.

The process wasn't so instantaneous, however. With sequestration in effect, Gebhardt's orders request was suspensed until funds became available. It took roughly six months before he was able to leave, but it was worth the wait, he said.

Gebhardt described various types of communication equipment he's worked with since he's been with JSCE. He was familiar with some of them, but there were a few items he picked up after arriving to Florida.

"I never touched a satellite dish in my life, until I came down there. It's pretty cool to learn about how satellites work and how to set those up," he said.

Other items he listed include commercial off-the-shelf equipment "you won't see anywhere else but in JCSE." COTS are built specifically for different missions. Gebhardt has also worked with airborne "communication packages," which allow technicians to jump out of airplanes and set up in remote locations. He explained his experience when learning the new piece of equipment.

"It's pretty much [on-the-job-training] from the guys who've been here a while. We'll go out and do different exercises," he said. 

Along with these exercises, Gebhardt also joins his team on physical training ventures. 

"We went out to Saint Petersburg Beach, on the Gulf of Mexico. We did a ruck out there," he said, referring to a walking or running, sometimes while wearing full-armor gear, with a backpack, or "rucksack," which is full of weight. 

"We did a six-mile ruck. We have radios with us; and we were doing radio [communications] between another team farther down the beach," He explained.

"Amazing," was Thomas' reaction when she went to MacDill to visit her troop. "It was interesting because he said they were doing an exercise downtown in a hotel. Then, when I went down into the compound where he worked, it was amazing to see how he was setting up both [classified and unclassified networks]," she said.

"It was cool because I know he's happy," Thomas added. "But it was also so neat to see one of own CSTs going above and beyond what we do here. We go out and we fix computers, but [not necessarily] in the environment that he is in. He's opened up the door for CSTs in the [446th FSS]."