SMDC History: Army Space Support Teams assists in disaster relief

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianSeptember 13, 2017

SMDC History: Army Space Support Teams assists in disaster relief
U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command team members of the Colorado Army National Guard's 193rd Space Support Battalion (now the 117th) of the 1st Space Brigade mobilize in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Kat... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

While disaster relief is not a new mission for either the Army or even U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, Sept. 14, 2005, saw a first for the Colorado Army National Guard's 193rd Space Support Battalion (now the 117th) of the 1st Space Brigade.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina which had wreaked havoc on Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, Colorado's governor activated two Army Space Support Teams, or ARSST, elements of the 700 Soldier contingent known as Task Force Colorado.

As Lt. Col. Scot Cuthbertson, commander of the 193rd noted "this is the first time an ARSST team has been deployed in the U.S. in an operation like this. We have never performed a State mission, a disaster relief mission using a space support team."

ARSST Team 10 deployed to Belle Chase, Louisiana, near New Orleans to support the relief efforts in St. Bernard Parish, while Team 11 remained in Colorado Springs, to provide reach-back support.

The six member team, headed by Maj. Lovelady, included an operations officer, Capt. Daryl Breitbach, a communications officer, Capt. Martin Jobe, an intelligence sergeant, Sgt. Chad Tipton, and two topographic specialists, Sgt. Brian Singmaster and Pvt. Eric Pershing.

Their skillsets were particularly needed, as Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, head of the Mississippi National Guard later observed, "I've been in three wars and we've always had good communications. This time? Zero. I was using runners, like the War of 1812. I could have used horses!"

With their satellite communications equipment, ARSST 10 was able to provide communications to Task Force Colorado with internet connectivity and internet protocol telephone service.

Data from commercial and military sources combined with two large plotters enabled the team to capture satellite imagery and create street maps which reflected current situations for the personnel conducting door to door search and recovery missions. This hands-on experience effectively demonstrated the benefits both communications and imagery provided by the Army Space Support Teams.

The two ARSSTs were not the only support provided to Joint Task Force Katrina by the USASMDC/ARSTRAT. The first to respond was the Regional Satellite Communications Support Center -- continental United States (RSSC-CONUS) located on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

As Wanda Woodson of the SMDC G-6 office explained, "all terrestrial communications within the hurricane strike zone were destroyed by the storm."

The RSSC established 35 different links over military communications satellites to support the various Joint Task Force Katrina including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and area hospitals, the National Guard and naval support vessels.

On Sept. 1, 2005, the command had received a request for forces which specified 24-hour imagery assistance. 11 SMDC/ personnel deployed to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to support Joint Task Force Katrina relief efforts with spectral imagery.

In addition to producing detailed maps of the New Orleans area, the Spectral Operation Resource Center, or SORC, conducted an analysis of before and after images of the city to determine which roads would be passable and assess the water saturation levels of the soil which improved navigation efforts as rescuers methodically explored the region.

A subsequent request, saw the SORC personnel analyzing their data to identify suitable helicopter landing zones in Mississippi. An additional SORC analyst assisted the Defense Intelligence Agency's efforts to identify environmental hazards hidden under the flood waters.

Finally, the Joint Blue Force Situational Awareness Mission Management Center also played a role in support of the Joint Task Force Katrina. At the request of U.S Northern Command, blue force tracking situational awareness capabilities helped to coordinate the various assets -- personnel, vehicles and capabilities across the spectrum of federal, state, local and volunteer emergency responders. The missions were quite varied ranging from getting food and water to survivors to directing medical or hazard materials teams to areas with critical situations.

In the 12 years since, the Army's Space Soldiers have continued to provide assistance in times of emergency -- fires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes.

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