Bringing tactical and civilian communications systems together

Story and photos by Capt. Andi Hahn, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office 

FRANKFORT, Ky.—Approximately 40 Kentucky National Guard Soldiers from the 149th Signal Co. and Joint Forces Headquarters participated in a communications exercise testing tactical networks with civilian networks at Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, Ky., Feb. 15-17.

130215A-HO101-017

1st Lt. Paige Young, 149th Signal Co., Kentucky National Guard, observes a 106-ft mobile radio tower during a communications exercise in Frankfort, Ky., Feb. 15. The tower would be used during emergencies in Kentucky where it could be placed atop a mountain in remote areas to expand mobile and portable communication capabilities.

“For the first time ever, we are testing our tactical communications systems with civilian systems to see if we can get them to talk,” said Chief Warrant Officer Dave Barker, Wireless Communications Manager for the Kentucky National Guard.

Barker said this is important because when there is a natural disaster in Kentucky, the state has limited deployable communication assets.

“If everything goes down, say during an earthquake, all we have is satellite,” said Barker. “We end up using primarily civilian communication networks, but we have all this tactical communications not being utilized at all.”

130215A-HO101-012

Soldiers from the 149th Signal Company, Kentucky National Guard, set up a satellite dish during a joint communications exercise in Frankfort, Ky., Feb. 15-17.

The communication specialists spent the entire weekend testing both networks, civilian and tactical, to be able to intercommunicate with each other by making phone calls, doing video teleconferences, sending emails and ultimately, sharing all data with each other.

“We have a tactical command post set up, a civilian satellite truck, the emergency management truck and we are seeing how well we can send data between all three systems,” said Barker.

One of the biggest systems the Soldiers were testing over the weekend was a 106-ft mobile radio tower that can be set up on a mountaintop in remote locations that would extend the range of portable and low power radios, a huge capability in certain areas of Kentucky.

“This is such a unique exercise, expanding our capabilities and testing civilian and military networks,” said Sgt. Caleb Riggs, a communications specialist with Joint Forces Headquarters and full-time Visual Information Manager at Boone Center. “I love this kind of work and for our state it’s new territory,” he said.

130215A-HO101-006

Sgt. Caleb Riggs, Visual Information Manager and communications specialist, participates in a joint exercise testing civilian and tactical communication systems at Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, Ky., Feb 15.

“Not only are we (full-time staff) training with the signal company, but they are training with us,” said Barker.  “We are short personnel on the full-time staff so the signal company can help us out come any emergency.”

“It was excellent training; a lot of high-tech equipment went into this and we were able to troubleshoot issues or detect a lot of problems during this exercise,” said Barker. “That’s why we do this, so during a real-world disaster, we will know exactly what to do.”