Offutt Operator, may I help you?

  • Published
  • By Landy C. Schwiesow
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
A last-minute tasker has been handed down and a contact number is needed in a hurry to complete it. What is that number? No directory is in sight and the computer system has been shut down for the night. Instinctively, the base operator number is dialed. The numbers are punched, a ring tone is heard and finally an answer: "Offutt Operator, may I help you?"

The simple task of picking up the phone and calling the base operator might have saved the day for some or at least helped others complete a task in short order. Calling 294-1110 can save a lot of time, but there is much more that can be done by calling the base operator.

"We're a 24/7 operation handling directory assistance calls from five operator stations," said Stanley Biggs, 55th Communications Squadron client services supervisor. The section also handles commercial local and long distance calls, DSN calls, overseas assistance calls, voice conference calls and morale calls.

Located in Bldg. 457 here, the client services section boasts 44 military personnel and 11 civilians. The civilians handle telephone operations and some maintenance control functions while military members perform similar maintenance control duties and handle the maintenance of base telephone systems.

"Altogether, the civilians and military have become the comm focal point... a one-stop shop for all communications systems maintenance issues," said Tech. Sgt. Derrick Sherrod, 55th Communications Squadron communications focal point operations non-commissioned officer.

As outages are called in, maintenance controllers open jobs or work orders and then log the jobs requested by various customers throughout the base, said Mr. Biggs.

"Job outages cover things like the giant voice emergency alert system, computer networks, phone lines, radio systems and airfield-to-aircraft communications for all wing units and base tenants," he said.

Major users here who rely on their equipment being up and running include the Air Force Weather Agency, U.S. Strategic Command, the 55th Wing Command Post, the control tower and airfield management.

"Years ago, after the two work centers were combined, telephone operators learned how to do maintenance control functions while maintenance controllers learned how to do the same for telephone operations," Mr. Biggs said.

The merger and subsequent cross-training has helped streamline client services to be able to handle the volume of calls they get in addition to logging outages, said Mr. Biggs.

"We average between 27,000 and 37,000 calls per month," said Mr. Biggs.

From the data collected by the unit on call volume, peak usage initially spikes between 7 and 10 a.m. and then again around 4 p.m. before tapering off later in the evening.

These trends are not only due to regular official business calls. The peaks in usage can be attributed to a morale program offered at Offutt.

"Morale calls make up a vast number of our calls," said Mr. Biggs.

"We have the Hearts Apart Program where deployed members' spouses, dependents and extended family can place two, 15-minute calls per week to deployed and overseas members," Mr. Biggs said. "The Airmen and Family Readiness Center manages the program and we implement the calls."

"We put the program out there so loved ones can reach their service members," said Tech. Sgt. Shannon Tabor, AFRC's readiness NCO. "We're here to support families so it keeps them in touch and boosts morale."

That connectivity and boost in morale starts with, "Offutt operator, may I help you?"

"Offutt operators are sometimes the first voice people hear and associate with the military, especially the Air Force," said Angela Barber, 55th CS client services representative, between calls on the T-Metrics system used here.

Operator voices reach much further than the local area and, according to Charles Stoll, client services representative, they seem to be appreciated.

"Overseas people prefer using us [Offutt operators] to place their calls," said Mr. Stoll.

And that's fine with base operators here, according to Mr. Biggs.

"We will keep patching the calls through," he said.

"Patching" refers to the use of older analog systems called patch panels which were used to connect calls. That system has long been replaced by the integrated digital system called T-Metrics.

The current telephone system here has been in place for approximately seven years.

Mr. Biggs said officials are hoping to replace it soon with more updated technology, but "a new system is costly." He estimates it could cost as much as $100,000.