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NEWS | March 29, 2006

DICE reinforces importance of communication

By Lt. Col. Gus Schalkham Director of Public Affairs JTF-CS

At the same time the White House was releasing the Report on Federal Response for Hurricane Katrina, over at Fort Monroe, a major communications exercise was taking place. Langley’s Hammer Ace team took part and demonstrated their capabilities.

Joint Task Force Civil Support (JTF-CS), under United States Northern Command, assisted in hosting a portion of this year’s DoD Interoperability Communications Exercise (DICE). The exercise was part of the larger DICE held at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., each year.

Each year in Fort Huachuca, communications systems, which require services from the DoD communications infrastructure, are evaluated and certified to use these services. The Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) under the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) performs the certification testing.

Each year this event becomes the largest communications exercise incorporating both DoD and non-DoD agency communications systems and, provides the opportunity for personnel from local, state, federal and DoD organizations to test out the interoperability of their communications systems which would be used in response to a catastrophic incident.

JTF-CS is tasked with planning and integrating the DoD support to a lead federal agency in the event of a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or High-yield explosive incident. They also have to be prepared to respond and provide command and control over the designated DoD forces who are called in to assist the primary federal agency when needed. This is where Hammer Ace becomes involved.

When communication support is anticipated or needed, the Hammer Ace team can fill the void. What is Hammer Ace?

According to Ace team member, Staff Sgt. Travis Queen, theirs is a rapidly deployable team of engineers and technicians equipped with advanced technology communications equipment. The team can deploy within three hours and establish communications within 30 minutes of arrival on-site.

The type of communication role they play is important and Sergeant Queen expanded on their capabilities.

“We provide initial communication support, secure communications, up to top secret to the on-scene commander. And we bring communication support dealing with satellite communications.”

Being self reliant is another plus for the Hammer Ace team.

“We don’t rely on the base infrastructure or any other type of base infrastructure,” said Sergeant Queen. “We have RPUs (remote power units). We charge them. We provide power to our equipment so that we can provide it to our customers.”

Col. Babette Lenfant, the Director of Communications Systems for Joint Task Force Civil Support explained, “Participants came from first responders (fire and police) as well as personnel from state, National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and DoD organizations bringing their deployable communications equipment and performed interoperability tests including e-mail, phone, radio to radio communications, web page connectivity and collaboration tools. In addition, we tested out bridging strategies to enable the disparate systems to talk to each other.”

The timing of the DICE event could not have come at a better time with Congress wanting to understand how we can better communicate in a time of a national disaster.