PENSACOLA, Fla. - The Army has a plethora of communication systems. Soldiers with the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade's signal section participated in a multi-state communication exercise in Pensacola, Fla., March 7-9 to ensure that they could connect as many as they could in a potential crisis situation.
In a true test of interoperability, the Kentucky soldiers flew to Florida, thanks to the Illinois Air National Guard and Kentucky Air Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing, to validate their equipment and skills for Task Force 46, a Michigan National Guard command.
"This exercise showcases the talents of this unit and the quality cooperation of a variety of assets," said Capt. Joseph Fontanez, officer in charge of the Kentucky delegation.
Fontanez said the exercise took into consideration all the logistics of responding to an incident, but it was still primarily an exercise in communicating. The unit's goal was to send a forward
command and control element within 24 hours to establish lines of communication between military units and local emergency responders for potential life-saving operations.
"We do this to ensure we are more than capable of filling in the communication needs of the task force and responding to an incident effectively."
According to Task Force 46, the exercise enhanced the abilities of personnel and units to perform operations in support of local agencies and Homeland Defense during a catastrophic event, such as a large-scale chemical, biological or nuclear incident. A variety of units including aviation, medical, chemical and signal make up the response under the task force's command and are based in Kentucky, Alabama, Florida and Michigan. Michigan is also home to the headquarters element for the Command and Control CBRN-E Response Enterprise Bravo.
Each unit had their own roles and objectives to be validated for the exercise, but Fontanez said there was opportunity for more. As part of a first time test of their "24-hour response package" the Soldiers worked with Airmen with Kentucky's 123rd Airlift Wing to pack up all the gear and equipment, including loading two Humvees into a C-130 and expedite their arrival in Florida.
"We play our part here and the team does a fantastic job, but we certainly tested the limits of our readiness for this exercise," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Means. "We tried something new and it worked well for us."
The Kentucky soldiers also worked to connect back to Frankfort, Ky., and finish the circle of communication from home station to field environment. With the added goals and unique equipment footprint, the 63rd was well represented and caught the eyes of others at the exercise.
Maj. Gen. Burton Francisco, Task Force 46 Commander, was on hand to oversee the exercise and stressed the importance of exercising communication abilities of the units and how critical communication is for the task force.
"I'm very happy with I have seen so far, the soldiers that are here representing each of their task forces are subject matter experts, each and every one of them," he said. "I was very impressed with what I saw from Staff Sgt. Means and the whole task force aviation team from Kentucky."
The communication exercise is in preparation for the much larger Vibrant Response exercise held each August at Camp Atterbury, Ind. The unit will participate in other exercises prior to the annual event, but the soldiers said the size of this exercise in Florida was invaluable for them and their jobs.
"These exercises are very beneficial for us in this field because our skills are perishable," said Chief Warrant Officer Scott Goode. "We have to maintain our equipment and remain proficient in all the different radio systems and technologies. This is a great tool for keeping the unit sharp and ready to go at all times."