News: Wyoming Guard’s ‘belly button’ helps secure the state
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Inside of the Wyoming National Guard’s Joint Forces Readiness Center, here, a handful of personnel run a control center to monitor, and, in some cases plan and control Wyoming National Guard missions in the United States.
The Joint Operations Center, known as the JOC, is the “belly button” of the agency, said Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, Wyoming’s adjutant general.
“What is provided is one entry point for the Wyoming Military Department for anybody to deal with anything,” said Reiner.
Externally, the JOC and its personnel field requests for assistance from outside agencies and organizations, for domestic operations. Internally, the JOC disseminates the information and tasking to the appropriate department, including the Wyoming Army and Air National Guard, the Wyoming Counter Drug Program, Civil Air Patrol and a number of other units and departments.
The JOC provides a direct link to two critical hubs, said the general. Nationally, it provides mission reports to the National Guard Bureau. In Wyoming, it coordinates directly with the State Operations Center, run by the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security.
The State Operations Center is not a full-time operation and only is activated when needed for coordination of state operations, said Reiner. The center could be staffed by various departments from state government and other representatives, including the Wyoming National Guard.
“In that case, I would expect to have two or three liaisons on the floor, at the State Operations Center, and for our Joint Operations Center to be fully manned, commanding and controlling the military assets around the state,” said Reiner. “You would actually have our own JOC commanding our own assets and the State Operations Center having a total overview of the entire operation.”
Master Sgt. David Franck embraced that concept when he was tasked, by Reiner, to develop the floor plans, security and communications for the current JOC.
“The whole idea behind the JOC is a single point for defense support,” said Franck, the JOC’s non-commissioned officer-in-charge.
This “belly button” to the Wyoming National Guard is actually not in the center of the readiness center, but in a wing of the building, out of the way of offices with heavy foot traffic.
The JOC is a special suite, designed to be self-sustaining, including its own ventilation system, water system and outfitted with various security systems not found in other areas of the building, said Franck.
The floor of the main briefing room is flat, with desks configured with phones, connections to secure military servers and additional power outlets. Cubicles, offices, smaller meeting rooms and a kitchenette flank the sides of the briefing room. Four flat screen monitors, a projector and screen, digital clocks and video teleconferencing systems line the front wall and are controlled from a raised platform in the back of the room.
“The design is very, very basic. I did not want to leave a legacy where people were locked into a design or function,” said Franck. “To me, it’s kind of a point of pride. We’re a small state, with a small budget and we have something that is more than just adequate.”
What has been a source of some difficulty is finding the staff to fully man the JOC, said Reiner.
Most of the personnel who man the JOC are Army and Air National Guardsmen. They gather intelligence, create plans and coordinate operations, not just with National Guard assets, but the Civil Air Patrol for search and rescue missions, and a host of other federal, state and local agencies.
National Guard Bureau recommends a minimum of 13 personnel, but there is limited funding for the manpower, Reiner said. As of December 2012, there are four personnel who work in operations, supported by one logistics officer, one person in communications and one in planning.
“Staffing has been problematic,” Reiner said, noting positions have been filled by using Army National Guard joint operations positions, augmented by contractors and temporary staff. “What happens when you go to that type of number is that we don’t have somebody up around the clock.
“We have somebody on duty during the day; somebody carrying a cell phone at night and on the weekends. That’s really where we’re at right now,” he said. “That’s a function of available manning and acceptable risk.”
During state and other emergencies, the Wyoming National Guard may, and has, called in traditional National Guard Soldiers and Airmen to assist. Instances include emergencies like the state mission to assist flood victims in 2010 and prevent flooding in 2011. Reiner said he credits the JOC with helping to expedite Wyoming National Guard responses to both of those events and the fires of 2012.
“One of the questions that I always think about is, ‘Iif we didn’t have the JOC functionally, who would be doing it?’ It would get assigned down to one of the services, either Army or Air,” said Reiner.
He said he doesn’t think the missions and tasks assigned to the JOC belong with either of the Wyoming National Guard’s military branches.
“I see the Army’s and Air’s focus as being ready to prepare their soldiers and Airmen for deployment overseas. And I know I want an element within our organization whose focus is on domestic ops; who’s trained on how to respond to domestic ops; and who could rapidly go from 0 to 100 mph in response to an emergency in the state,” said Reiner. “We’ve done it and we’ve done it really well with the JOC.”