PA ANG domestic support capabilities showcased at Vigilant Guard Exercise

  • Published
  • By Capt. Colin Wilson
  • 271st Combat Communications Squadron

Imagine a Monday morning in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, as thousands of tourists enjoy the pristine beaches, tropical weather and rum punch.  Suddenly the earth shakes … Two minutes later, sirens blare, warning of an impending tsunami, and a frantic scramble to higher ground ensues.

Later, as the waves recede, the devastation is clear: hundreds of people are killed, thousands are displaced, most of the low-lying infrastructure on the island is destroyed, and communications are non-existent.

This scenario played out quietly – unbeknownst to vacationers – as part of the U.S. Northern Command and National Guard Bureau-sponsored Vigilant Guard Exercise recently. The government of the territory of the Virgin Islands, as well as active-duty and national guardsmen from across the U.S., participated in this domestic support operation, including two teams from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. 

Twelve Airmen from the 271st Combat Communications Squadron, 193d Special Operations Wing, supported the exercise with two Joint Incident Site Communications Capability communications packages. These specialized elements are trained and equipped to establish communications to support a joint operations center, in the field with no supporting infrastructure.

“We can provide the commander with voice (and internet) communications so they can control the National Guard forces that support the civilian incident commanders,” 271st CBCS personnel noted. 

The teams from Pennsylvania provided support at two locations and three operations centers as part of this exercise. Senior Master Sgt. Brian Mitchell led a team of six to provide support to the joint task force at East End National Guard Armory, St. Thomas.

“In this scenario, we provided communications through our satellite terminal, and distributed the network signal using WIFI technology to the dual-status commander, providing users with voice and data services,” he said.

The dual-status commander is appointed by The Adjutant General and approved by the NORTHCOM commander to have command authority over Title 32 guardsmen as well as Title 10 active-duty responding forces. 

The second team was supporting the joint forces headquarters, and Task Force Alpha, 104th Troop Command, which was tasked to provide water purification on St. Croix. The team supported customers at two locations, using equipment that allows JISCC teams to provide communications to a remote location several miles away.

“One of our primary objectives is to educate the leadership that we are supporting,” said the JISCC officer in charge. “We train them to operate effectively and efficiently in a deprecated communications environment.”

The teams from the PAANG were able to support the Virgin Islands National Guard, and to meet their own training objectives to include demonstrating the ability to rapidly deploy equipment and personnel via military airlift.

The 271st CBCS personnel say they contribute their success during the exercise to a collaborative team effort.

“Up until this point, we have only deployed our equipment by driving. However, we were very successful in demonstrating our ability to move two teams aboard a C-17, thanks to the 193rd Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron Aerial Port Flight and aircrew from the 172nd Airlift Wing, Mississippi Air National Guard.”

The 271st CBCS, stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap, Annville, Pennsylvania, maintains several JISCCs, with the capability to operate communications equipment specifically for the purpose of domestic operations response. In addition, the 271st wartime mission is to operate and maintain a Large Communications Package, capable of supporting a deployed air base wing.