March 7, 2006 —
Joint Task Force Civil Support hosted part of the Department of Defense Interoperability Communications Exercise 06 Feb. 20 thru March 3.
The exercise took place at the JTF-CS headquarters aboard Ft. Monroe, Va. Various agencies that would have a role in working with U.S. Northern Command in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high yield explosive event participated in DICE here, while others played out the exercise at Ft. Huachuca, Ariz.
According to Patty Critzer, JTF-CS J6 deputy director, the event was designed to allow personnel from DoD and the Department of Homeland Security and civilian first responder teams to test and integrate communications systems that would be used in the event of a CBRNE event.
Marty Soder, JTF-CS J6 communications planner, said the DICE mission was to replicate, in the greatest detail possible, a realistic joint task force communications network for the purpose of conducting joint interoperability certifications and assessments of warfighter systems.
Participants in the exercise included components of U.S. Northern Command; 1st and 5th Armies; National Guard units from Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina; DHS; the Coast Guard; as well as a number of Virginia city and county first responders.
Air Force Master Sgt. Jeffrey Theall, J6 communications support chief, said the exercise was a chance for him and his team to become proficient on their own equipment, as well as becoming proficient talking to others and familiarizing themselves with the equipment others may bring with them.
“Basically we want to get all the ones and zeros we have to talk to the ones and zeros they have and have it all make sense when it comes out the other end,” said Theall.
Air Force Col. Babette Lenfant, J6 director, said she was very excited to host this event, along with NORTHCOM and was pleased with “the opportunity to test the interoperability of our communications equipment with other communications systems that anyone would bring” in response to a CBRNE event.
She said this exercise was an additional opportunity for JTF-CS to work with its subordinate communications element, the Hammer ACE (Adaptive Communications Element) team from the Air Combat Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Queen, a member of one of three Hammer ACE teams that would deploy with JTF-CS to provide reach-back communication capability to each of the task forces deployed in support of JTF-CS, said his, or any of the teams, can be “wheels up” within three hours, can deploy anywhere in the world, and within 15 minutes of arrival at their destination, be completely set up and provide a broad spectrum of communications capabilities.
“This really is a neat system we have,” said Queen. “We are 100 percent mobile, which eliminates the need for any base communication infrastructure. We can set up on top of a mountain or in the middle of nowhere, and within a very short amount of time provide just about any type of communication you need, including both classified and unclassified email and Internet connectivity.”
Air Force Staff Sgt. Ethan Mabry, another Hammer ACE team member, said to add to their mobility, the whole system can be battery powered for as long as 10 hours on a single battery.
The system Hammer ACE teams bring with them can provide cross communication between cell phones, land mobile radios, land line phones and tactical satellite radios, allowing more people to communicate over multiple systems.
“We can dial a cell phone from a radio, or call someone on a tactical radio from a landline,” said Queen.
Army Lt. Col. Curtis Fox, J6 plans and requirements branch chief added DICE was also an opportunity for JTF-CS to operate and validate its Joint Communications Control Center.
Fox cited a number of challenges presented by the exercise such as “working with both DoD and non-DoD units assigned to JTF-CS and getting these entities to work together in cooperation.” He said there were many lessons learned, and many opportunities for improvement identified.
Soder backed this up, saying this was the best opportunity they’ve had to “utilize and refine the processes in the [Joint Communications Control Center].”
Soder added the event was an excellent opportunity to evaluate the Command Assessment Element procedures “from a comm[unications] standpoint.”
The JTF-CS J6 communications team also used the DICE venue to obtain Joint Interoperability Training Command certification for a number of their systems, allowing these certified systems to connect with and plug into any number of other DoD systems.
The exercise was an opportunity, not only for JTF-CS to showcase its own communications capabilities, but to also “window shop” for new tools and systems being assessed by other exercise participants.
“If I don’t know what you have, I don’t know how to connect to it,” said Lenfant. “It’s a great opportunity to look for new solutions.