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PEO Digital finds north for lost Airmen

8th Fighter Wing Airmen help a simulated casualty move toward a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys during personnel recovery training Aug. 15, 2018, at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea. In this exercise, it is likely each participant would have used the Personnel Recovery Command and Control software system to upload their vital statistics prior to deployment. Program Executive Office Digital at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., supports and sustains that system using agile software development processes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stefan Alvarez)

8th Fighter Wing Airmen help a simulated casualty move toward a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys during personnel recovery training Aug. 15, 2018, at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea. In this exercise, it is likely each participant would have used the Personnel Recovery Command and Control software system to upload their vital statistics prior to deployment. Program Executive Office Digital at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., supports and sustains that system using agile software development processes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stefan Alvarez)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Program Executive Office Digital is helping deployed personnel agree on which way is north by rewriting the software they use to orient themselves when lost.

Home units use software like the Personnel Recovery Mission Management system, or PRMM, to track deployed personnel. It defaults to “true north” when in use, but the deployed personnel often use a compass, which points to magnetic north. Magnetic north is subject to variations based on time, location and local weather.  Air Combat Command, the system owner, requested a software rewrite so that all parties would have the same directions when orienting themselves.

“We’ve been completing changes like this for the better part of a year,” said 1st Lt. Luke Sutherland, the Personnel Recovery Command and Control, or PRC2 software suite’s program manager at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. “We’re improving several aspects of the system at once, and we’re doing it with Department of Defense resources, and not waiting for private companies to field fully functional applications.”

The change took 18 Air Force civilian software coders at the 517th Software Maintenance Squadron at Hill a total of two weeks to complete. They identified the requirement and fielded the solution in June 2018. 

Every military branch and several civilian agencies, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which deploys personnel abroad and participates in exercises, uses PRMM, which is part of the PRC2 system. The system is owned, sustained and upgraded by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. Air Combat Command generates requirements for the system.

The system kicks into gear when deployers file through pre-deployment processes. In addition to picking up issued weapons, protection gear and special equipment, personnel specialists build custom profiles on every single deploying person. Thousands of custom profiles written yearly contain personal, professional and medical vital statistics. Not only do these profiles give commanders an idea of who they’re receiving, but they identify wounded, incapacitated or deceased service members. PRC2 provides a kind of double-book accounting for the military’s most valuable assets – its people.

Coders work in tight cycles to write and deliver patches and updates using agile software development operations, pioneered in the Air Force by PEO Digital at Hanscom.

 “We’re not a special super team or anything,” said Jason Foust, the 517th SMXS Personnel Recovery Mission Manager scrum master, who leads a team of six civilian coders. “We just love the program, and we went through the effort to be sure we were updating it the best way we knew how, even if that code-writing process doesn’t necessarily fit into traditional Department of Defense practices.”