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5 Burning Questions: 844th Communications Group

woman and dog sitting together at home workstation

Danielle Weinrich, executive assistant to the 844th Communications Group commander, poses with her dog while teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 844th Communications Group provides communications and information support to Air Force National Capitol Region warfighters, including Headquarters Air Force District of Washington, the 11th Wing, and various other organizations throughout the NCR.

woman sitting at computer

An Air Force civilian assigned to the 844th Communications Group answers customer service help desk calls to assist Air Force personnel with telework capabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 844th Communications Group provides communications and information support to Air Force National Capitol Region warfighters, including Headquarters Air Force District of Washington, the 11th Wing, and various other organizations throughout the NCR.

Airman sits a computer while wearing a mask.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. David Gonzalez, Headquarters Air Force Executive Travel Flight Chief, mans the 844th Communication Group's control center during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 844th Communications Group provides communications and information support to Air Force National Capitol Region warfighters, including Headquarters Air Force District of Washington, the 11th Wing, and various other organizations through the NCR.

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --

In an effort to answer some of your top questions about a variety of subjects, the Air Force District of Washington is launching this series: “5 Burning Questions.” The first segment covers communications, computers, networks and teleworking.

5BQ’s with Col. Michael Sinks, 844th Communications Group commander

How are laptops and other necessary telework equipment being disseminated, and how is the 844th CG supporting telework in general?

The 844th CG is actively engaged with mission partners to enhance the telework experience.  We are doing our best to provide the tools and equipment required to operate in a maximum telework environment, enabling our customers to remain highly productive.  The Help Desk, Desktop Support technicians, and other highly trained individuals are on duty to mitigate any problems our customers have with their equipment or service.

- Laptops:  COVID-19 increased demand for laptops and is driving our inventory down.  The lower inventory level mean we must limit distribution to mission-essential personnel first until stocks are replenished.  Air Force National Capitol Region customers should submit laptop requests through the My IT website. A replacement order was submitted in April, and we anticipate delivery of approximately 500 laptops for inventory by mid-June.  We are working another order for 2,000 laptops now.

- Headsets/microphones:  Customers may order USB headsets with microphones on the My IT website.  Personal USB headsets may also be used.  Wireless headsets/microphones are not allowed with network computers.

- Cameras:  Customers who need a camera for video-conferencing while teleworking have three options.

            Option 1:  Arrange to have the built-in camera on your government laptop enabled by calling the AFNCR Service Desk at (240) 857-2666.  The Service Desk will schedule an appointment for you to bring your laptop to either Joint Base Andrews (Bldg. 1558, Room 44), or the Pentagon (Room 1E773).  If you have to return to a classified processing area, you must contact the service desk to have the camera disabled before you proceed to your work center, and again to enable the camera to work while teleworking.

            Option 2:  Request to purchase an external web camera via the My IT Services website.  Under the “Changes Services” heading, click on “Purchase Approval Request” and select “Plug and Play Hardware no Install” under type of purchase request.  Wireless cameras are not authorized for use with network computers.

            Option 3:  Customers may use personal cameras, but they cannot be wireless or have information storage capabilities.  

- Common access card readers:  We are replenishing our stock of USB CAC readers to support customers that want to use the Outlook Web App (OWA).  Customers can order CAC readers on My IT Services.  
How is the CHES cloud computing migration coming along and how might that impact telework operations?

As to be expected, COVID-19 has slowed some aspects of the CHES transition for most AFNCR customers.  Work is continuing in the background as much as possible, and there has been some exceptional movement forward with some CHES services, such as Microsoft Teams and One Drive, to greatly improve the telework environment for our Air Force Teams.  Access to these collaborative tools allows customers to hold virtual meetings and access additional data storage while teleworking.  AFNCR customers that have not already transitioned to CHES will remain on Defense Enterprise Email (DEE) in the near term.  Our technical teams are evaluating whether transition while in a primary telework mode can be accomplished without significant network congestion and mission disruption. 

Click on this story link to learn more about the transition: AFDW to transition to cloud-based enterprise services.

Do we have a timeframe for obtaining a more reliable, accessible VPN, and what resources will that require?
The Air Force is making great strides to improve network access to all members by replacing the legacy virtual private network (VPN) access technology with a new system known as Enterprise User Remote Access Modernization (EURAM).  Since March 2020, the number of concurrent connections has been increased from 9,000 to 157,00 with plans to increase to 200,000 connections by the end of April 2020.  No local resources are required to leverage the new capabilities, while the user gains improved access and reliability.  This is a huge win for Air Force members needing network access to support telework demands.
What steps can people take to ensure effective cyber security, especially with the influx of app integrations into telework tools?

Effective cyber security begins with awareness that in any crisis there are individuals and groups that prey on your emotional state.  These actors use social media, email and text messages to obtain your personal data or to introduce a virus to your computer or network.  Here are three simple steps to avoid those situations.

Step 1.  Never provide your username, password, date of birth, social security number, financial data, or other personal information in response to an email, phone call, or text message. 

Step 2.  Always verify the web address of legitimate websites and manually type them into your browser. 

Step 3.  Never click on attachments or links within emails that you don’t recognize the sender or that seem suspect.  If you do receive suspicious emails from unverified or unknown senders it is recommended that you delete the email.

It’s very important that people understand which collaboration tool they are using and the information being discussed and stored.  Commercial collaboration tools should not be used for official collaboration.  According to the Air Force Deputy Chief Information Officer, tools like WebEx for Government and Zoom for Government are authorized for controlled unclassified information, but the use is limited and requires a license to operate.

Recognizing these limiting factors, the Department of Defense Chief Information Officer procured Microsoft Teams Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) which provides access to a very robust collaboration environment to include video, voice and chat capabilities along with SharePoint and OneDrive. You can use CVR on your personal or government computing devices. CVR is currently only available until Sept. 15. 

For those customers who are using Cloud Hosted Enterprise Services (CHES) email, Air Force is also working to enhance Outlook Web Application (OWA) to allow connection without using virtual private networks (VPN) and provide access to SharePoint and OneDrive. The new version is called OWA Plus, which will require use of a CAC reader.

What if I need to upgrade or replace equipment, address a software or hardware issue, or experience any other problems with my computer system? Will I need to get on the network at work and what is that process?

First, try to resolve the issue through use of online, CAC-enabled resources:

If you are unsuccessful with the online resources, contact the AFNCR Service Desk at (240) 857-2666.  In most cases, the service desk will be able to resolve your issue remotely.  If not, they’ll help you arrange a time and location to bring in your computer for service.  Walk-ins are discouraged to limit people congregating in common spaces.  We continue to have a minimal staff available on-site at the Pentagon, Joint Base Andrews, and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling to address issues that cannot be fixed remotely.

We’ve established an external knowledge repository on milSuite that is accessible outside the VPN. The repository includes knowledge references available on COMM 411 “News Flash,” and relevant Remote Access “NOTAMs” and “How-To” articles.

Customers may access milSuite using their DoD CAC, PIV authentication through this link:

https://www.milsuite.mil/wiki/AF_844_CG-COMM_411(RemoteAccess)