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NEWS | Aug. 11, 2014

National Guard space operations expand leaders' problem-solving tools

By Capt. Benjamin Gruver 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

SALINA, Kan. - "Space, the final frontier."

The Star Trek intro would be appropriate as the Army incorporates more space capabilities into its operations, including domestic emergency response operations.

The use of space operations was tested during the multi-state emergency response exercise Vigilant Guard 2014 hosted by the Kansas National Guard as part of Joint Task Force Santa Fe, in Salina, Kansas, Aug. 4-7.

"Space operations and the capabilities that we normally bring to wartime are fairly new to the domestic operations realm for Kansas," said Lt. Col. Eric Bishop, chief of the Space Support Element, 35th Infantry Division.

Those capabilities essentially being satellite and geospatial imaging, with a gamut of software programs used to provide data quickly so leaders can determine solutions to problems.

Augmenting Kansas' small contingent of three personnel was Army Space Support Team 30, 117th Space Support Battalion, Colorado National Guard, a unit unique to Colorado.

"They have a lot more experience than we have," Bishop said. "We are still learning, so having them here with their expertise is a great opportunity."

The Colorado team consisting of two space operations officers, two geospatial engineers, a satellite communications systems operator/maintainer and information technology specialist, were able to bring a new dynamic to an area of the exercise that can only besimulated.

"We are able to define the situation and help our domestic operations and civil authorities by providing them information that before this exercise Kansas had not been able to do," said Bishop.

One way the ASST was able to help was in the area of flooding. The team was able to use a real world terrain map of the Neosho River and do analysis of the flooding at different stages.

"They are able to look at the computer and, given the stage level, could tell you exactly whether this house would be flooded or this bridge would be under water," said Bishop.

During the exercise, planners were asking for specific locations of service members and trying to determine which areas could safely be managed by local emergency responders and which areas needed Guardsmen deployed to support the hardest hit areas.

The benefit of using space technologies, according to Capt. Kevin Trabert, the team leader for ASST 30, is that the information can be provided quickly from a safe location away from the dangers.

In addition to the flooding, the team was able to simulate the plume from a leak at a chemical plant and show areas directly impacted and in need of evacuation. The information and products the ASST was able to provide enhanced the areas of the exercise that were more difficult to simulate.

"There is no real way to simulate what a destroyed city is going to look like from a tornado unless we use an example from recent history," said Trabert. "So the way we've been kind of doing that is with a lot of extras on the map to make it look like the areas are damaged to try to bring some of that exercise to the real world."

The ASST was not only able to enhance the Vigilant Guard exercise, but brought along their real experience in using space technologies in emergency response operations.

"In Colorado, we supported the Black Forest fire last summer which was a very large fire on the outskirts of Colorado Springs," said Trabert, explaining that it was one of the largest evacuations in Colorado history with almost 30,000 people evacuated at one point.

ASST 30 was able to provide imagery of the fire and used satellite sensors to pick up heat energy to show exactly where the fire was. They were also able to integrate that with the Blue Force Tracking system military forces use overseas to track emergency responders.

"We really appreciate using the ASST," said Bishop. "They were a huge asset during Vigilant Guard, bringing with them the experience of having already responded in that role to other domestic emergencies."