Music to his ears

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii -- Air Force Master Sgt. Ray "Sugar Ray" Adames (pronounced uh-DAH-miss) knows firsthand the extraordinary work it takes to turn Pentagon promises of Year 2000 compliance into reality for all major Defense Department command and control systems.

Adames, chief of the Defense Information Systems Network Services Division at DISA-Pacific, has learned that Year 2000 compliance in the field translates into a hands-on job in the far corners of the Earth. Last month, when the switches that DISA uses to control its Pacific network required a chip upgrade, Adames had to make an epic trans-Pacific journey from Hawaii to Singapore, where he installed new chips.

Then, with no sleep, he headed back to the airport to fly to the remote island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, the staging base for the B-52 that was primed last week for an attack against Iraq.

Adames was well aware of the time he spent in the air. "About eight or nine hours from here to Japan, then five or six hours to Singapore and then another four or five to Diego Garcia," he said.

Many in the military view Diego Garcia -- a 17-square-mile remote atoll that defines the phrase "the middle of nowhere" -- as a tough duty station. But the upbeat Adames said, "I could do a year on Diego Garcia.... The fishing is just great."

Although Adames works in the heart of a networked enterprise, he finds that travel helps develop better relationships with people he routinely deals with by telephone or e-mail. "I'm a great advocate of getting out to meet the people you work with," Adames said, adding that "putting a face to the place" always makes the next contact with that individual and his command work better.

The personal touch, Adames explained, helps him in his primary job, which is provisioning circuits for U.S. forces throughout the Pacific with high-tech tools.

Col. Mike Harvey, the DISA-Pacific commander, calls Adames "a service provisioner extraordinaire" to describe the way Adames plays his terminal like a network maestro. Adames conducts his work from a cubicle in the distinctly World War II-era DISA-Pacific building here, which looks like it is out of a scene in "From Here to Eternity" rather than the nerve center of DOD trans-Pacific communications.

Trained as an Air Force tech controller, Adames has used on-the-job training and experience to make the transition from the days when controllers switched circuits with patch cords used by old-time telephone operators to a new era in which he can turn network cards in remote switches on and off with just a mouse click.

"I do all the provisioning from my desk," Adames explained. "I can program cards from ports here, configure the network and map it. The software then looks for the optimum route and builds it before your eyes."

Before entering the Air Force 19 years ago, Adames started his electronics career by repairing hearing aids after he graduated from the highly regarded Chelsea Vocational High School in New York City. Harvey explained that Adames' work and mission extend far beyond the routine, saying Adames is responsible for "engineering the circuits and trunks in direct response to warfighter contingency and exercise requirements."

Interviewed this month, Adames had just finished setting up circuits to support President Clinton's planned and then canceled trip to Guam last week.

He also worked from 3:00 p.m. to 3 a.m. building and trouble-shooting a circuit he would describe only as "unusual" -- a job most likely associated with supporting the buildup of U.S. forces in the Middle East for a possible confrontation with Iraq.

Team Player

Adames is quick to point out that he does not do this work alone. He works with a team of two contractors, two other Air Force personnel and two network specialists -- one each from the Army and the Navy.

"I hate to use the words 'work for me' when I talk about my team," Adames said, "because that's what we are -- a team. No one person is a shining star."

That attitude carries over to answering any phone when it rings in his area. "I don't want to tell anyone, 'That's not my job,' " he said.

Adames, Harvey disclosed, has gained fame in DISA-Pacific for his off-duty disc jockey skills, which earned him the "Sugar Ray" nickname. Adames said he has pursued the disc jockey sideline throughout his military career, earning extra money by playing music at wedding receptions. It is a good business interrupted by frequent moves, which he does not complain about.

Adames professes profound satisfaction with his career. He has just re-upped for another tour with DISA-Pacific, saying, "I've never been treated so good." His career has been marked by assignments with NATO in Europe and a tour at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, where he met his wife, Cora Lee.

On duty, he plays a key role in ensuring that deployed U.S. forces that are headed into possible "harm's way" have the circuits they need to support the new era of network-centric warfare. Off duty, he can don the "Sugar Ray" moniker, put on some of his beloved rhythm and blues "and play to the crowd."

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