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38th Cyberspace Engineering Group carving out a niche in modern military communication

TINKER AIR FORCE, Okla. -- If you've ever picked up an Air Force phone or touched a computer connected to an Air Force network, you have the 38th Cyberspace Engineering Group to thank.

There are few units in today's military that have the ability to say they directly help every single Airman in the entire Air Force -- approximately 750,000 individuals -- but the 38th CEG holds the distinction quite confidently.

The 38th CEG's confidence is only as good as their dedication toward remaining ahead of the curve. But the 580 men and women of the 38th CEG don't cower at the inherent challenge.

"We are hard hat, muddy boots kind of people," 38th CEG Commander Col. Christopher Cotts said. "That's really where the fun stuff happens for us."

The numbers don't lie. Between 10 and 40 percent of the entire group is deployed on various TDYs at any one time.

It's perhaps a misnomer under the "cyberspace" banner in the group's name that suggests its entire mission is accomplished in an online world. The group enables sustainment for approximately $35 billion in cyberspace infrastructure, spanning six continents. "And we're working on Antarctica," Colonel Cotts said.

Most people assigned to the 38th CEG -- 180 military and 400 civilians -- can expect to spend at least one week per month on location at one of the Air Force's 103 main operating bases or 212 geographically separated units worldwide. These are people dedicated to the unique mission of cyberspace -- a blend of rapidly evolving online parameters and slower moving hardware implementation.

While the online world is ever-changing, the 38th CEG has had some changes of its own in the last year -- namely a mammoth-sized reorganization. As of August 2009, the group now falls under the jurisdiction of the 688th Information Operations Wing, part of the 24th Air Force, which is in turn governed by Air Force Space Command out of Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. It's a centralization that will carry the 38th CEG well, driving them through this historic transition period, where warfare is increasingly being waged online.

"The 38th is part of a major historical shift in the way we're going to fight our nation's battles in the future," Colonel Cotts said. "We have a fundamental role to play how we're going to fight our nation's battles in that new domain."

The 38th has seen its workers deploy to numerous locations over the past year. In addition to having people on the ground in Haiti to support the relief efforts following the earthquake in January, the group is also amid a number of domestic projects.

Starting at Tinker, the group is executing a "map the network" project, aimed at gauging exactly what and who is tapped in to the network at any given time. The pilot project will be conducted at three other bases before being implemented Air Force wide, for the betterment of network security and effectiveness.

The group also has 36 base-level projects underway across the areas of responsibility, further indicating their high-demand mission.

Although the group operates on a budget of several million dollars, they annually accept upward of $100 million in project funds from their customers Air Force wide. And this amount could double in several years as the group's services become more of a necessity.

Colonel Cotts couldn't be more proud of his group's personnel, of whom about 80 percent hold bachelors' degrees and about half of those masters'.

While the 38th CEG's personnel are constantly on the road toward achieving the mission, Colonel Cotts is right there with them -- strapped into an airliner or car seat, visiting the various areas of responsibility to encourage his troops to meet the distinct cyberspace challenges.

"I won't say it's a daunting challenge -- I will say it's an extremely exciting challenge," Colonel Cotts said. "The great dedication the people in the 38th CEG have is just tremendous."