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    Florida Guardsmen attend Signal University to train on latest disaster response communications equipment

    Florida Guardsmen attend Signal University to train on latest disaster response communications equipment

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Carmen Fleischmann | Signal Soldiers attending the Florida National Guard's G6 Signal University establish...... read more read more

    STARKE, Florida – For more than 15 years, the Regional Emergency Response Network (RERN) revolutionized disaster response for high impact states like Florida. The RERN is a large vehicle, staffed by a minimum of four personnel, capable of providing telephone, radio, video teleconferencing and internet connectivity to responding agencies.

    Over the years, technology has evolved and the mission has changed. In the wake of Hurricane Michael, county Emergency Operations Centers throughout the panhandle went completely dark, void of all means of communication. Signal units scrambled to mobilize specialized Soldiers to restore services, bringing with them equally large and outdated equipment. The lessons learned from Hurricane Michael, coupled with an operational cost upwards of $2500 a day per RERN, led the Florida National Guard G6 to obtain the same capability but in smaller, more modular, package known as Joint Tactical Expeditionary Kit (JTEK).

    Operated by a minimum of two personnel, the JTEK is designed to be the primary communication setup for early entry hurricane relief operations. It contains a 95cm KU band satellite terminal to provide commercial internet and voice capabilities to support interoperable emergency communications in austere environments. The JTEK also provides a wireless access point to allow users to connect with mobile devices and laptops, making connectivity easier with less cabling, all contained in mobile, easily transportable cases.

    “The concept is that a team can be sent out on a boat, commercial aircraft, a Blackhawk, Chinook, or even ATV. Essentially, they can go anywhere within the state within 24-72 hours,” said Army Staff Sgt. Guillermo Vanegas, G6 Tactical Branch NCOIC.

    The JTEK contains back-up communication equipment, including HF and VHF radio systems, in the event that services cannot be established via satellite. It is also equipped with internal communication devices that allow the customer to contact other National Guard assets and law enforcement agencies.

    With this new, more versatile and user friendly equipment, the G6 is looking for operators who will form a Signal Reserve. Emergency Communications Operations OIC, Army Lt. Col. Ralph Sullenberger, says the idea is to assemble a roster of Soldiers from every major subordinate command who will report to J6 once an executive order is signed in the event of a state-wide disaster. Teams can be attached to a Task Force or support local civil authorities.

    “We want to have approximately 50 or so operators that have some experience in providing communications to units,” said Sullenberger. “To get them trained and ready [we held a Signal University] and this is the first year we’ve actually been able to execute.”

    Signal University brought together 16 Soldiers to create four-person JTEK teams. The three-day course was held in conjunction with the state hurricane exercise or HURREX, an annual event in which the FLNG and partnering agencies respond to a mock hurricane situation.

    Primary instructor for Signal U, Vanegas, said that G6 wanted to make the capstone event for the training as realistic as possible. Responding to the same event detailed in the HURREX and some creative, hands-on evaluations, made that possible.

    On the last day of the course, teams were transported by boat, courtesy of the FLNG’s Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Explosive (CBRNE) Emergency Response Force Package (CERF-P) to various sites around Camp Blanding that served as EOCs. Upon arrival they set up, tested and operated each component of the JTEK, calling back to G6 personnel who, in a real world situation, could be hundreds of miles away from where the teams are providing critical services to emergency response personnel. To Vanegas, the importance of their role cannot be understated.

    “To me this training is very important. It puts an emphasis on the fact that when you become part of a communications team, you represent the National Guard to that city or county,” said Vanegas. “If they see us perform well and exceed their expectations, that’s a win for the Guard as a whole.”

    The G6 plans to host more Signal University courses, the next one as early as August. While telecommunication experience is preferred, the opportunity exists for any Soldier who is looking for a new way to help the citizens of Florida.

    Specialist Kenia Hall recently deployed to Saudi Arabia with Company B, 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion and found it worth her drive from south Florida to attend Signal U.

    “I really liked it,” said Hall. “It’s pretty easy to learn once you get your hands on and it’ll be good training for when we actually go out and use it.”

    The commercial off-the-shelf satellite system is already being used by the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) and will be issued out to the 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion when they convert to an ESB-Enhanced, a more agile signal unit in the next year or two.

    “Streamlining technology across the force only helps us to further increase our readiness,” said Sullenberger.



    Date Taken: 05.11.2021
    Date Posted: 05.14.2021 09:41
    Story ID: 396410
    Location: STARKE, FL, US 

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