SC, Va. National Guard troops provide communications support for Vigilant Guard

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ed Marquis (left) and Master Sgt. Roseanne Gillis (right) of the Virginia Army National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division, operate a Joint Incident Site Communications Capability during a Vigilant Guard exercise March 8, 2015, in Georgetown, S.C. Vigilant Guard is a series of federally funded disaster-response drills conducted by National Guard units working with federal, state and local emergency management agencies and first responders. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ed Marquis (left) and Master Sgt. Roseanne Gillis (right) of the Virginia Army National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division, operate a Joint Incident Site Communications Capability during a Vigilant Guard exercise March 8, 2015, in Georgetown, S.C. Vigilant Guard is a series of federally funded disaster-response drills conducted by National Guard units working with federal, state and local emergency management agencies and first responders. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

GEORGETOWN, S.C.- South Carolina National Guard Airmen and Virginia National Guard Soldiers are partnering to provide communications support to military, federal, state and local emergency management services as part of Vigilant Guard March 4-12, 2015, in Georgetown, South Carolina. Vigilant Guard is a series of federally funded disaster-response drills conducted by National Guard units working with federal, state and local emergency management agencies and first responders. This year’s scenario is a Category 4 storm – Hurricane Zephyr – that strikes the South Carolina coast.

One of the lessons learned during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was the need for National Guard units, civilian emergency management agencies and first responders to be able to communicate effectively with each other. The team from the 169th Communications Flight from McEntire Joint National Guard Base and the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division are solving that dilemma by deploying the JISCC – the Joint Incident Site Communication Capability.

The JISCC is made up of communications equipment that provides Internet access and telephone support in the field for the approximately 2,000 Soldiers and Airmen participating in the exercise including National Guard units from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. The equipment includes: servers, laptops, radios, satellite dishes and telephones. In the event of a site or state-level emergency, the JISCC would not only allow responders to coordinate with each other locally, but with command and control elements statewide.

“We are the phone company. We are your internet service provider. Wherever you need us, we’re there,” said Capt. Michael Wingrave, a Charleston-resident from the South Carolina Air National Guard, 169th Communications Flight, McEntire Joint National Guard Base. “As long as we have diesel and food, we can provide comms.”

In old movies, a stereotypical manager might be surrounded by ringing telephones, picking up and answering each in turn or holding multiple receivers to his head while splitting conversations between each. The JISCC does away with that scenario.

This eliminates the need for multiple phones, said Tech Sgt. Kevin Vaughn, a Lexington-native also from the 169th. This one system gets rid of the need for 15 radios. Everybody can talk to everybody.

With the ability to link radios with phones, a Federal Emergency Management Agency director could be in contact with a Black Hawk helicopter observing fires from the air. FEMA could then coordinate the response to the fires while the helicopter pilot provides real time situation reports, according to Wingrave. Fire and emergency responder radios often operate on a different frequency from military radios. The JISCC system coordinates communications between all groups.

“You can literally phone a friend,” said Spc. Todd Herington, of the 29th ID, referencing the game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” in describing the lifeline capabilities of the JISCC. Herington used his own cell phone to solve one technical problem during the exercise: discovering an online app to test the signal used for video teleconferencing systems.

“There’s an app for everything,” said Herington, a young Leesburg-native, on only his second trip to the field. They were able to find an app online to test their outside VTC connectivity. There is even a transformer app for finding satellites in the sky, he added.

There was no Army field manual outlining app-based solutions. Participants in the exercise have relied on their own ingenuity and civilian world experience – as well as military training – to solve problems. One of the benefits of the Vigilant Guard exercises is the opportunity for military and civilians to share and apply knowledge in problem solving and developing working relationships.

“You learn stuff from them. They learn stuff from us,” said Wingrave. “It’s really amazing what civilians coming together can do. Different walks of life, different backgrounds − they make it work.”

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