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NEWS | June 21, 2016

Preparing for the worst: Communication support provided at joint service training event

By Spc. James Bradford 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Fort A.P. Hill, Va. – As a culture, we have communications everywhere. We use cell phones, email and radios every day without ever having to worry about them suddenly not being available.

Now, what happens when disaster strikes and we lose the ability to talk to each other? This is the type of situation the Quartermaster Liquid Logistics Exercise prepares us to face.

More than 700 Army Reserve Soldiers are taking part in QLLEX at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., this year. Situations are meant to train troops on conducting the major aspects of civilian authority aide, to include water purification, establishment and sustainment of communications, and fuel and water distribution.

“We are sent to areas that have been devastated, areas where there is no power or communications, and we’re able to set up equipment and immediately have communications that reach up to 40 miles from our location,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Gregory Mackel, a cyber operations technician with the 910th Communications Squadron out of Youngstown, Ohio.

“We provide the Joint Incident Site Communications capability which is designed for natural disaster response within the 48 continental United States,” Mackel said.

In previous years, if there was a natural disaster in the U.S., the National Guard would be activated by the state and possibly the surrounding states in which the incident occurred.

Then in 2012 the National Defense Authorization Act was passed, which allows for a state government to activate Reserve Soldiers for assistance with civil authorities.

“Our job is to connect two agencies together,” Mackel explained. “We act as an interconnecting agency. The civilian agency provides us with a radio, and we take a military radio, and we can cross band them and communicate together.”

Communications capability during an exercise or a national emergency can use a large amount of bandwidth which puts strain on a network.

“To have the Air Force come in and provide added signal is invaluable to our mission,” said Chief Warrant Officer Nicholas Chadwick, officer in charge of communications for QLLEX.

“Without their added support, I don’t think we’d be adequately prepared to deal with the bandwidth constraints or worst case, the network going down on our side,” said Chadwick, who is with the 316th Expeditionary Support Command, Coraopolis, Pa. 

Chadwick went on to explain that redundancy in signal, which is providing the same service at the same time, creates a contingency. 

“The support they bring adds a level of redundancy so that if we have issues with our signal, we can switch over to theirs or vice versa,” said Chadwick. “If radio signal goes down, we can use their cell phone signal.”

Communication in a time of crisis is a necessity. Crises such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 left behind massive destruction. Hurricane Sandy was the first time Reserve Soldiers were called up to respond to a natural disaster.

“Once we reach a destination, we have a two-hour time window to be fully operational,” said Mackel. “We use a six-person team to build our operation from the ground up.”

“We carry our own shelter and generators with us, so we could essentially be operational indefinitely,” Mackel said. “We can stay for the long haul if needed or until a larger provider can come in for assistance.”

Services provided at QLLEX include data transfer, radio communications, video teleconferencing, and commercial and Department of Defense internet capabilities.

Military Reserve forces have training that must be conducted monthly to maintain proficiency in a troop's occupational specialty. This training allows units to maintain their readiness to be activated.

“We do training where we activate our satellite connection every month to ensure everything is up to date and working fine,” explained Mackel.

“The Air Force Reserve Command has six of our units, so if they are spread out appropriately they can all be linked together and create a fully meshed network within a very short period of time,” said Mackel.

Chadwick explained that the Air Force “has capabilities the Army just doesn’t have, so to bring them into this exercise makes them a great combat multiplier.”

“We were short on signal assets as is, and we are in two geographically distant areas,” Chadwick said. “They brought the ability to have video teleconferencing in the field, which is very impressive in itself.”

Chadwick explained that having the extra assistance also helps significantly in reporting to leaders. “They get to see how the Army operates, and we get to see how they operate.”