NEWS | July 29, 2021

Minnesota Guard modernizes training communications

By Sgt. Mahsima Alkamooneh, Minnesota National Guard

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. – Airmen from all over the country were at Camp Ripley earlier this summer conducting site surveys of the down-range training areas. This year-long project aims to install an entire loop of fiber optics cables throughout the range.

Fiber optics is a way of communication. Fiber optics is a faster transmission method than a traditional coaxial or copper cable. It also allows for a much larger amount of throughput. Delivering fiber optics to the ranges will allow more communication to flow faster without any restrictions.

"Delivering fiber optics capabilities, which is, when you think of high-speed internet, it runs on fiber optics," said Master Sgt. Alan Kroth, Enlisted Engineer NCOIC for the 210th Engineering and Installation Squadron (EIS) out of St. Paul, Minnesota. "You're going to get hardened infrastructure delivered to every range."

Inside a fiber optics cable is glass which light travels down. The cables are also very thin. Kroth explained that it is slightly wider than the width of a strand of hair.

"It's pretty impressive. It's a digital cable that allows for digital communication." Said Kroth. "There is more bandwidth, and it runs faster and uninterrupted versus the copper, which can fail."

The engineering team is focused on assessing the area before the install team arrives next summer. Part of this process involves developing a list of necessary materials and remaining in contact with the base for support.

The project is unique because this would be the first training facility range with full fiber optics capabilities for the entire range. Additionally, over 40 individual Airmen from five separate Engineering Installation Squadrons are here.

The Airmen identifies the path to place the wire to avoid hazards such as large culverts or power lines.

"We have 40 people out there walking 40 miles to trace this route," said Kroth. "It's a lot of work, but the work that they're doing is going to be very, very important for the execution."

The 210th EIS has been working for the last five years to place fiber optics on East and Center ranges. Next year, they will have the ability to complete just under 40 miles of cable in one summer. They will complete 80% of the project with eight teams from across the United States, half of the Engineering Installation community in the Air Force.

"This is a somewhat newer capability to the military," said Kroth. "A lot of times when you get out to the field, teams are struggling with communications, wiring up antennas for point-to-point connections. This is going to take a lot of that headache out of the execution of the training mission."

After completion, there will be a dedicated line back to the cantonment and access, allowing units to stay in the field longer regardless of administrative work.

"The partnership that we have with Camp Ripley and the way we are executing this is something special," said Kroth. "We are collaborating from a very large community that supports the entire United States."