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Men at work: the life of a cable dawg

Photo of two Airmen staring down a manhole

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alan Hooper, 39th Communications Squadron cable maintenance supervisor, (left), and Senior Airman Jacob Glass, 39th CS cable and antenna systems technician, stare down a manhole May 20, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Cable and antenna systems Airmen, popularly called “cable dawgs,” maintain and install cables on telecommunications towers and underground vaults or maintenance holes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of Airman staring up through a manhole

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brandon Gayton, 39th Communications Squadron cable and antenna systems technician, looks up through a manhole May 20, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Cable and antenna systems Airmen, commonly called “cable dawgs,” check oxygen levels before entering an underground chamber as a safety precaution. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of three Airmen at a worksite

“Cable dawgs” assigned to the 39th Communications Squadron carry their shovels after an afternoon of work May 11, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Cable and antenna systems Airmen, popularly called “cable dawgs,” are often mistaken for civil engineers because their jobs take place outdoors and involve vigorous manual labor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of Airmen digging a trench

Airmen assigned to the 39th Communications Squadron dig a trench to install cables May 11, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Cable and antenna systems Airmen, commonly called “cable dawgs,” install and maintain more than 200 thousand miles of fiber optic and copper communication cables to 550 facilities at Incirlik. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of an Airman using a shovel to dislodge dirt from a trench machine

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Allen, 39th Communications Squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of cable and antenna systems, uses a shovel to dislodge dirt from a trenching machine May 11, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Cable and antenna systems Airmen, commonly called “cable dawgs,” are unique from their other colleagues in communications because their job primarily takes place outdoors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

Photo of two Airmen carrying shovels

“Cable dawgs” assigned to the 39th Communications Squadron carry their shovels after an afternoon of work May 11, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Cable and antenna systems Airmen, popularly called “cable dawgs,” are often mistaken for civil engineers because their jobs take place outdoors and involve vigorous manual labor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- There is a popular saying which goes, “life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.”

For cable and antenna systems technicians, this proverb rings true whenever they uncover a manhole or climb up a tower. With an active imagination, one can compare it to descending into a dungeon or scaling a cliff.

“Our job can take us running these cables hundreds of feet in the air on telecommunications towers or underground in subterranean cable vaults and maintenance holes,” said Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Allen, 39th Communications Squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of cable and antenna systems. “We are specialized in that we only install communications cables; we don’t do electric or proprietary cables.”

Popularly called “cable dawgs,” Allen and his team of Airmen install and maintain more than 200 thousand miles of fiber optic and copper communication cables to more than 500 facilities at Incirlik Air Base.

Allen remarked that people often mistake cable dawgs for civil engineers, since their workplace is outdoors and involves hard physical labor.

“Cable is unique from a communications perspective as we are one of the few jobs that cannot be done from a virtual console or computer,” said the native of Waco, Texas. “Our entire job is in the field: whether it’s digging a trench for a new cable installation or installing a new port for a computer to plug into. For someone who enjoys working with their hands, this is one of the best jobs in communications. We get to work with equipment normally only used by civil engineers—and, if at a base with an antenna mission, we get to climb towers and work aloft which is a thrill by itself.”

Staff Sgt. Alan Hooper, a cable maintenance supervisor, stressed the importance of his unit’s mission, saying communication between units would be difficult if the cables didn’t function properly.

“It would basically set us back into the Civil War era of sending messengers on horseback to anyone we need to get information to,” he said jokingly.

Hooper described the life of a cable dawg as labor intensive and entertaining at the same time, adding that any day on the job can be full of surprises. He noted that whenever he and his colleagues open a manhole, they never know what awaits them—whether it is just the cables lying there or a wild animal lurking beneath.

“My deployment to Qatar was probably the hardest I’ve worked in my life,” Hooper recalled, “It was middle of summer, about 100 to 110 degrees every day and we were outside pulling cable through manholes. And the giant spiders in the manholes weren’t that cool either… yeah that part sucked.”

It's not just creepy-crawlies in deep dark pits which await a man on the job, other cable dawgs have told stories of encountering snakes while climbing a tower.

Despite these mini adventures of working in the hot sun, climbing into damp crevices and battling wild beasts, Hooper said he enjoys his job and would recommend it to people interested in the communications field.

“I would say this is a great job to have,” said Hooper. “It gives you an understanding of how communications plays a huge role in every business and organization on the planet. It’s a great stepping stone into the world of communications; cable maintenance is the base physical foundation. After doing this job and understanding the physical structure, then you can cross-train into other communications career fields with a great understanding of the underbelly of it all.”

Whether it is climbing down a manhole or up a tower, battling the summer heat, facing wild animals or just another day on the job—life is full of adventures when you’re a cable dawg.