SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
For a forward-deployed unit, one of the most critical keys to mission success is the establishment and maintenance of clear communication with leadership. At Joint Task Force-Bravo, the responsibility of establishing that vital communication while in the field falls on the shoulders communication experts like Radio Frequency Specialist, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. William Lane.
"We provide the reach-back for the command and control cell for the forward deployed team and their leadership to be able to communicate with the main joint operations center (JOC)," said Lane. "We set up a tactical operations center with every capability required in order to get the intelligence, oversight and communication needed to run the mission. We set up phone, internet, and any required radio support. We're basically a one-stop shop for all of it."
That one-stop shop capability was tested during a recent disaster response exercise, during which Joint Task Force-Bravo's Central America Survey and Assessment Team (C-SAT) deployed to Belize. Lane was tasked with setting up communication with the Joint Task Force-Bravo JOC within three hours of arrival in country. He met the deadline with time to spare.
"It was very satisfying to be able to do that," said Lane. "Even better was the fact that we maintained our uptime during the exercise. The fact that all of my systems stayed green the entire time we were in Belize and that we had all lines of communication up the entire time was extremely satisfying. That's the ultimate goal for a comm person: 100% uptime."
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alan McKewan, JTF-Bravo Army Forces Battalion commander and the team lead for the C-SAT, said the communication piece was critical to the team's ability to perform in the event of a real-world disaster.
"The C-SAT is the U.S. Southern Command commander's eyes forward in support of disaster relief," said McKewan. "Having the ability to quickly establish communications and pass critical information ensures that commanders can make the call to provide the right assets to prevent loss of life and reduce human suffering."
The tactical communications capabilities give forward deployed units several alternatives to ensure communication is achieved.
"During the exercise, we were able to join the network at JTF-Bravo so everyone could access their files just like if they were in their office back at Soto Cano. We also provided communication via satellite phone, which could be used to call JTF-Bravo or SOUTHCOM, as well as SATCOM radios which would be used to communicate from air to ground and coordinate a medivac or other operation if needed."
The exercise in Belize was built around the scenario of a powerful hurricane making landfall. In that situation, the communication capabilities provided by Joint Task Force-Bravo's C-SAT are crucial.
"A large hurricane would knock out all cell phone towers and other communication nodes," said McKewan. "The JTF-Bravo CSAT team's communication package includes the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) and the SWE-DISH, which allows the team to push information within minutes of arriving at the disaster scene. This ability can make the difference between life or death in a humanitarian assistance situation."
It's that life or death difference that service members like Lane make each time they establish communication from a tactical location. But Lane says it's all in a day's work.
"It's just about doing the job, ensuring the connection is there and being able to get the word back to everyone and reach back to home station," he said.