245th Community of Practice Integral to Unit’s Mission Published July 21, 2009 By Tech. Sgt. Stephen Wilkins 145th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Charlotte, N.C. -- The newest squadron at Charlotte's 145th Airlift Wing already has an international reputation, with just a year under its' belt. The 245th Civil Engineering Flight, an Air Force (Air National Guard) Staff Augmentation Team providing architectural, engineering and environmental design services to customers around the globe is partnered with the 145th Civil Engineering Squadron in Charlotte, with responsibility to the US Africa Command, a new joint Major Combatant Command , headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. "It's been a fantastic experience," says Lt. Col. Michael T. Ray, the unit's commander, who has been assembling the team since he stood it up in April, 2008. S-Teams, as they are referred, are engineering units that provide design and build capability primarily for new construction, diminishing the need worldwide for outside contractors in architectural projects. There are currently five such teams in existence. Airfield lighting and humanitarian assistance are among ongoing projects in Armenia and Afghanistan as well as the design for a multi-structure exercise staging facility in Morocco comprise a growing list of projects undertaken and completed by the foundling unit of traditional guardsmen so far. Although the projects don't stop, the Airmen undertaking them are part-time, all having civilian jobs. They do the work and accomplish it on schedule through their Community of Practice site. Communities of Practice are central, secure virtual workshops, part of the Air Force's knowledge-centric operations behind a secure wall, providing unit members opportunities to submit work and update it, coordinate notes on it, make comments and schedule reviews, meetings and discussions on-line. Through the CoP projects, including drawings and schematics can be carried out securely and conveniently from anywhere. "We have to be able to keep things moving, to reach out and touch projects through the month we normally wouldn't be able to access until drill," says LT. Col. John Wolverton. Although Wolverton admits there are impediments with the system and they'd like to increase upload capability, he concludes S-Teams are communicating and brainstorming, sharing electronically. Ray, who lives 150 miles from Charlotte, in Raleigh says North Carolina National Guard members from the state as well as places like Florida, Illinois and Tennessee will provide corporate knowledge and continuity to an active duty staff that rotates through positions within 17th Air Force and US Africa Command. He insists the CoPs are useful tools, allowing members to work at their homes, when deployed to project sites or while he may be preparing o update superiors at headquarters in Germany. The requirements are generated by US Africa Command and engaged upon direct contact with embassy staff and host nation personnel in the span of a month or more, he says. Unit Training Assemblies are used to bring the unit together, and satisfy any readiness and skills training needed to meet wartime readiness. The unit has proven not only a great opportunity for enlisted personnel working in the civilian world as degreed architects and engineers (already, the unit, at 70 percent manning, has three brand-new prior-enlisted lieutenants, with another on the way), but has also provided a landing area for established military personnel, some, including deputy commander Lt. Col. Brad McRee who came to the unit after serving as an Air National Guard Military School Commandant, earning his new Civil Engineering Air Force Specialty Code, airmen have had the chance to broaden and deepen their careers. We plan to be an asset to the state as well," says McRee, who served in a number of critical positions for the 145th AW, including Inspector General. He contends the unit will take on a growing role in the development of Guard state disaster response. The group is wasting no time getting to know its fellow Staff Augmentation Team members from across the country. In addition to regular conference calls throughout the year, the 245th will host more than 100 people at the annual conference in Badin, NC October 22-25.