By Lt. Col. Charles R. ParkerDecember 3, 2008
As the winter sun hung low along the horizon and temperatures hovered below freezing, arctic communicators from central Alaska joined together for an innovative and unique contingency communications exercise Nov. 12-16, 2008.
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, government civilians and contractors from Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, gathered together to integrate multiple dissimilar communications systems representing more than five separate Department of Defense (DoD) organizations.
The Alcantra National Guard Armory, located near Wasilla, provided the central backdrop for one of Alaska's most challenging communications exercises in recent history.
The site was configured to emulate a large-scale emergency incident response with wide-ranging communications requirements for local and state first responders, interagency partners and active duty and Alaska National Guard units.
For those personnel on-site, it was easy for them to immerse themselves into the simulated defense support of civil authorities environment.
The J6 team at Joint Task Force Alaska designed this year's Arctic Freeze exercise with a uniquely Alaskan focus which paralleled exercise Vigilant Shield 2009.
Arctic Freeze included members of the 59th Signal Battalion and Company A, 307th Integrated Theater Signal Battalion (ITSB); G6, Alaska Army National Guard; 611th Air Communications Squadron (ACOMS); U.S. Northern Command Standing Joint Forces Headquarters (NC-SJFHQ); the Region X Defense Coordinating Officer (DCO) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); and one of two Alaskan Command (ALCOM) deployable Alaska land mobile radio (ALMR) systems.
Due to Alaska's high levels of geological activity and the vulnerability of commercial communications networks to natural and man-made disasters, exercise planners relied heavily on satellite-based systems, which allowed users to reach back to robust networks in the continental United States (CONUS) and Hawaii.
Whether bringing together interagency partners for a video teleconference (VTC) linked over four separate satellite communications systems, or extending coalition networks via tactical line-of-site radios for the Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region (ANR), these expert communicators were up to each and every challenge.
Just back from "real-world" missions supporting hurricane response and presidential events in the lower 48 states, representatives from both the U.S. Northern Command Standing Joint Forces Headquarters and the DCO Region X team were on-hand to share their experiences and provide subject matter expertise to other exercise participants.
Specializing in the operation of the DCO emergency response vehicle (ERV) and man-portable, commercial-based satellite communications systems like the SWE-DISH, these individuals trained and bolstered the confidence of our Alaska-based operators and maintainers.
The Alaska land mobile radio transportable system team from Anchorage demonstrated their new Motorola gateway device and enabled communications between handheld ALMR users on the ground to Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 helicopter pilots and separately to members of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) flying in the local area.
The Alaska National Guard's new joint incident site communications capability (JISCC) package was the central focal point at exercise site.
The JISCC is currently undergoing fielding in all fifty states and four territories and possesses a unique and highly capable satellite-based communications, package to provide first responders with radio software interfaces, wireless internet access, video-teleconferencing and numerous other IP-based capabilities.
This year's Arctic Freeze was a positive step forward to understanding each organization's contingency communications capabilities and enhancing working relationships
The exercise concluded with numerous lessons learned and new tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) captured to facilitate future training and timely responses to real life emergencies in the JTF-Alaska joint operations area.