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Operators keep open lines of communication

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- "Hi, what's the number for ..."
"Can you connect me to ..."
"What's the number for 9-1-1?"

They may hear this everyday, but telephone operators here are on the front lines of communication, ready to keep Team Osan connected.

"The operator's job is to provide assistance for anyone, on or off base, to contact people on Osan," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Marengo, 51st Communications Squadron NCO in charge of telephone service. "Providing directory assistance is their main function."

With their office open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, these 14 communications specialists field approximately 1,800 calls daily - and that's during a low operations tempo. Even though they stay busy their entire eight hour shift, the operators say they enjoy helping customers get the information they need.

"I receive the results of my service very quickly," said Operator 6 (operators' names are withheld due to the nature of their job). "The word we hear often is 'Thank you.'"

In order to make sure the customer hangs up the phone happy, the operators have to keep up with ever-changing numbers, said Ms. Yi, Kapsuk, 51st CS chief operator. Offices or people may move, or someone may add a number that the operators do not know about. They have to keep track in order to keep the information flowing.

"Operators are a bridge to pass along information," said Ms. Yi. "What would happen if the bridge would be blocked? It would be very inconvenient."

It's not only unit-to-unit information that they facilitate. The operators field calls from off base and overseas, usually from the United States. Callers' first impression of Osan comes from these professionals.

"When people call from the States, they contact us first," said Operator 6. "We are the image of the base for these callers."

Operators also have a responsibility to help people in emergency situations, she said.

"(Recently) I fielded an emergency call from the States," said Operator 6. "A father was trying to reach his son who was stationed here, but was in a hospital in Suwon."

The father wanted to check on his son's condition, but didn't know how to contact the hospital. Operator 6 was able to track down the hospital in which the man's son was located.

"I translated for the man and hospital staff, and I connected father to son," she said. "It was a rewarding feeling."

Whether they're giving an Airman the number to Checkertails or helping a family member find a loved one, the telephone operators of the 51st CS are essential to Osan's mission.

"Being able to be 'Ready to Fight Tonight' takes communication, the flow of information," said Sergeant Marengo. "(The operators) help us with that capability."