West Virginia Air National Guard leans forward for Hurricane Maria response

Capt. Holli Nelson
West Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

A team of five Airmen from the West Virginia Air National Guard’s 130th Airlift Wing communications flight deployed to Puerto Rico with the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC) today to support recovery operations following Hurricane Maria.

The team of specialized communications Airmen will utilize the JISCC to provide non-secure voice, data, video, and radio interoperability with local, state and federal agencies working Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the wake of the devastating Category 5 hurricane.

“The West Virginia National Guard continues to lean forward to provide any kind of support we can to the people of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other citizens that may need us,” said Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer, The Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard. “This team of highly skilled West Virginians will be a critical asset on the ground and will help to establish communications for first responders. The domestic response capabilities of the WVNG are far reaching and multi-faceted and we pride ourselves on our ability to help our neighbors both near and far.”

The JISCC is a completely self-sustained communications system that is specifically tailored to support command and control elements during domestic operations. It was developed from lessons learned after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and response to Hurricane Katrina. It is deployable in a C-130 or other cargo aircraft and operates on its own generator providing rapid response capabilities to those in need.

Senior Airman Michael Sharpe, a radio technician with the 130th Communications Flight and Charleston, W.Va. native said, “It means a lot to get to be a part of this. It’s not very often that you get to go down and help people and feel like you’re truly giving back to the community.”

Sharpe explained that his five-person team will set up the JISCC once they arrive in Puerto Rico and as long as they have line of site to the satellite, they will be able to establish the necessary communication channels for the agencies there.

130th Communications Flight superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Powell, who will be the team lead for this mission said, “This is going to be a great learning experience for us and we will get to help our Army National Guard partners and many more people in need down there.” He continued, “We always try to do our part as West Virginians. Communications [flight] is usually one of the first [units] to deploy and with this being our fifth mission in support of hurricane relief over the years, we are just happy to be able to go out and support what we can.”

Some of the unique capabilities the JISCC offers in the event of a disaster includes the ability to provide wireless internet up to 25 miles, supports a wide spectrum of radio frequencies as well as secure telephone and voice over internet protocol telephone services, explained Lt. Col. Stacey Shade, 130th CF commander.

The WVANG has utilized the JISCC for numerous events in the past including the historic 2016 floods, Hurricane Katrina, and support of two Presidential Inaugurations and multiple State of the Union addresses.

The 130th AW was specifically tasked to support this particular mission as a result of past successes utilizing the system, said Shade.

Airmen from the 193rd Special Operations Wing in Harrisburg, Pa. provided transport with their C-130J to Puerto Rico for the team and equipment.

The 130th CF team could be in Puerto Rico for up to 30 days or as needed.