Va. National Guard Airmen prep communications gear for crisis

Airmen assigned to the 192nd Fighter Wing practice setting up the Joint Incident Site Communication Capability system and perform operational checks on equipment Sept. 13, 2018, in Sandston, Virginia. The team was on standby prepared to provide communications support in the event of connectivity loss due to Hurricane Florence. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Kellyann Elish)

SANDSTON, Va. — A hurricane threatens to hit Virginia and Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen respond. Mission command centers are set up and task forces are assigned in various regions throughout the commonwealth before the storm makes landfall.

Commanders, Soldiers and Airmen rely on the use of technology to communicate with one another when geographically separated. It is vital to the mission to have a strong line of communication between mission command centers and the men and women out in the field.

But what happens when the winds pick up or lightning strikes, taking down trees and the power lines with them? Communication and internet access are lost. The longer it takes to restore, the greater the risk of human and material loss.

That’s when a team like the 192nd Communications Flight comes in.

Communications Airmen assigned to the 192nd Fighter Wing are on stand by, ready to go at a moments’ notice when disaster strikes. They can set up a mobile communications system, also known as the Joint Incident Site Communication Capability system, and a standalone satellite designed to be self-contained and provide high-bandwidth capability and first responder communications systems anywhere.

Airmen assigned to the 192nd Fighter Wing practice setting up the Joint Incident Site Communication Capability system and perform operational checks on equipment Sept. 13, 2018, in Sandston, Virginia. The team is on standby prepared to provide communications support in the event of connectivity loss due to Hurricane Florence. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Kellyann Elish)

JISCC systems provide an array of communications options to a variety of users, including wireless and wired internet connectivity, radio connections for multiple frequencies, uplink to satellites, telephone service and many more communications capabilities.

“The system also allows for joint service connectivity,” explained Tech. Sgt. Eugene Harrigan, cyber systems operator. “In the event of a disaster, in conjunction with providing network services, the JISCC team is able to connect with other JISCC systems in an extensive reach back capability to expand services. This includes other units, state and local first responders, and other emergency services that may be needed.”

The JISCC is easily transported to any disaster area with all equipment necessary being hauled in an enclosed trailer. Members of the JISCC team are not only trained annually, but also conduct  familiarization throughout the year, as well as yearly evaluations in which they must meet state requirements.

“Being a part of the JISCC team has been a great experience,” said Harrigan. “As a member of the Air National Guard, you look forward to helping and providing support to those in need throughout the state. The capabilities that the JISCC provides allow us to do just that and more.”

During the mobilization of the VNG in support of Hurricane Florence beginning Sept. 12, 2018, a handful of Airmen from the 192nd CF were on standby at the Mullins Readiness Center in Sandston, Virginia. They brought the JISCC system with them. Not knowing the route the hurricane would take or the emergencies they may face, they were prepared for anything.

Although Florence took a route that had less impact on Virginia than anticipated, the 192nd JISCC team remained on standby should another area of Virginia or a neighboring state need assistance. In preparation for this possibility, the Airmen performed an operations check of their equipment and practiced setting up the JISCC.

“I have been labeled as the guy who loves the JISCC,” said Master Sgt. Fernandes Branch, JISCC non-commissioned officer in charge. “My response to that is I fully recognize the JISCC as the best resource the 192nd Comm Flight has to offer our section the hands-on training and exposure to most of the comm career fields. Being tasked to come to the aid of our state and country via the use of the JISCC is what makes this job worth training for.”

The team also took this time to provide extra training to its members. Members of the team ranged from new Airmen learning the ropes to experienced Airmen who have years of experience to offer. Each member of the team has a specific role, and they all work together to respond quickly and efficiently.

“I have had nothing but a great learning experience being part of the JISCC team,” said Senior Airman Dukeith Barrera, client systems technician. “I get to work systems hands-on and learn all their functionality. On top of this, looking at the bigger picture, I understand how we are an asset to the mission. My duty on this team is to set up satellite communications and make sure we have network communication.”

From start to finish, they set up the JISCC in about an hour with full capabilities being reached within three. The initial set up and final set up are, however, based on location, type of disaster response and the need of the mission. Even when faced with technical difficulties, the team worked together and overcame the hurdles. They verified the equipment and their team were ready to respond to a communication crisis wherever it may occur.