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NEWS | Aug. 16, 2017

Army North’s Task Force 51 provides connectivity during exercise, crisis

By Staff Sgt. Tomora Nance U.S. Army North Public Affairs

Catastrophic disaster, whether it’s man-made or natural, can happen anywhere despite the population’s size. And, chaos can ensue if there is no way for first responders and other disaster relief services can’t communicate with each other and to those effected. That’s why training for disastrous events is important especially to Army signal experts whose sole job relies on communication.

Soldiers and Department of Defense civilians assigned to U.S. Army North’s Task Force 51 conducted a weeklong exercise Aug. 3-11, called Vigilant Guard 17-04, at Kirkland Air Base in Albuquerque, N.M. For Task Force 51, the exercise focused on preparation for disaster support to local, state and federal response efforts with minimal notification and response time.

Not only does the task force rapidly deploy but they also rapidly build capabilities; one of those capabilities is communication – communication for both the operating staff and their civilian counterparts.

“Communication is the key to success during any disastrous event,” said Matt Hopper, telecommunications specialist with Task Force 51, U.S. Army North’s Contingency Command Post 1. “We have the capability to roll into any event and set up communications with a very unique vehicle – the Sentinel.”

As an emergency response vehicle, the Sentinel has a wide-array of functions and serves as an extension of ARNORTH’s network at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The connectivity to the network allows users in nearby buildings access to secure and non-secure networking. The vehicle also provides videoconferencing suites, information video systems, and several different radio frequencies.

“We can have the joint operations center up and running with all of the voice, data and radio requirements within a few hours of arrival,” said Hopper, referring to the Sentinel. ” Another great feature of this truck is we have a commercial circuits, which allows our civilian counterparts to show up with their own equipment and have connectivity, even if the power or internet is down in the local area.”

Network inoperability is often a term associated with the aftermath of disasters due to the different radio frequencies of various local, state and federal officials.  However, the Sentinel also has the ability to facilitate communications between disparate communications equipment.

Hopper explained disparate communications equipment.

“Disparate communications means official ‘A’ cannot talk to official ‘B’ because they have two different communication frequencies causing network inoperability, which can incite chaos. But, the Sentinel bridges the gap by patching the audio through from one device to the other regardless of the model. It can bridges frequencies from: radio to radio, phone to radio, etc.”

ARNORTH’s Sentinel supported more than 50 personnel at a nearby building with connectivity and allowed those personnel to communicate with other entities during the exercise.

“Communications is vital to the mission’s success,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Roseburgh, Task Force 51 signal support systems specialist. “If you can’t communicate effectively with all personnel involved, then the mission can fail. My main purpose during this exercise was to establish communications prior to Task Force 51 key staff’s arrival with the Sentinel, so we can maintain situational awareness with other entities outside of this location and support my section with any helpdesk questions.”

Roseburgh said although he was the only military person in his section, he felt comfortable stepping in to help his civilian co-workers at any time because they all receive cross-training on the equipment.

Both Roseburgh and Hopper agreed that training is important to the success rate of their mission.

“Training is like our road map; we need it to guide our success-rate in the event of a real-world situation,” Roseburgh said.

“We train so that in an event of an actual disaster we can support fellow citizens to the best of our abilities,” Hopper said. “And, being able to communicate during time of devastation just might save someone’s life.”