Comm members aid federal agency with climbing skills

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson
  • 120th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office
120th Communications Flight radio frequency technicians assisted the United States Bureau of Land Management with changing communication antennas on a tower located at Antoine Butte near Zortman, Montana, Aug. 14.

Montana Air National Guard communications equipment was scheduled to be removed from the site so the 120th CF offered to assist the federal agency with updating its equipment.

MTANG communications personnel were uniquely qualified to swap out the antennas mounted on the 100-foot tower as they hold certification in tower climbing and safety.
The antennas are critical for the agency to help maintain radio communications needed for wildland firefighting operations conducted over a large portion of north central Montana.

According to a BLM radio frequency technician, who also serves part-time as a Montana Air National Guardsman assigned to the Communications Flight, having the MTANG technicians update the antennas saved the government valuable time and money since the BLM had no certified climbers available locally to do the work.
"The BLM has a moratorium on climbing so we would have had to farm it out," Tech. Sgt. Robert Hoffman said. "In Montana and the Dakotas, when BLM has to go out there to contract out for climbers it becomes more and more difficult due to insurance concerns in the civilian world, so this really helped out the BLM, really helped us out a lot."

Radio Frequency Technician Tech. Sgt. Josh Petersen attended school in September 2014 to receive additional training that allowed him to certify communications personnel in tower climbing. He has since trained and certified all five RF technicians assigned to the 120th CF in safely climbing towers.

He said his team of climbers encountered few challenges during their time working high above the ground on the communications tower.

"Just the heat and trying to stay hydrated," Petersen said. "We had a couple of breezes up there that weren't too bad. The guys on the ground were always running stuff back and forth for us and working together so it worked great."                                       

Senior Airman Erick Christian, a cyber transport systems technician, is certified to climb towers but served as a member of the ground crew during the work conducted at Antoine Butte.

"I helped get equipment up and down and kept things organized and straight and made it as smooth as I could up there," Christian said. "I feel we work very well as a team. We communicate well and we get everything done as quickly and efficiently as we can."

The communications tower antenna work also provided the personnel a chance to get real-world experience in their Air National Guard career specialties.

"This was very effective (Air Force Specialty Code) training," said 120th Communications Flight Commander Maj. Benjamin Royer. "We were able to get personnel who were certified on the tower climbing last week and this week they did an actual job experience. It was a fantastic opportunity."

"Part of the incentive for doing the BLM's work for them was not only were we bringing antennas down, we were also getting experience in putting antennas up so it was a win-win for everyone," Hoffman said.