Air Guard communicators get technical during exercise at MacDill

Written by  //  May 23, 2009  //  Feature Stories

TAMPA (May 23, 2009) — When U.S. forces in remote overseas locations need to talk, chances are slim they’ll find an Internet café or payphone.

Instead they’ll turn to military communications experts like the Florida Air National Guard’s 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron (JCSS) who can provide fast and reliable support regardless of the location, weather or mission.

Specialists from the 290th offer voice and data communications, video or radio transmissions, and even Internet access using specialized, mobile equipment packages.

Staff Sgt. Justin Carr of the 290th JCSS checks the sites on an M-4 rifle during training for his unit at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., May 16, 2009. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

The 290th JCSS recently underwent an intense exercise at its headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, testing its abilities to provide communications services to any customer units including the U.S. Army Special Forces or the U.S. Marines. The exercise included deploying and setting up mobile communications stations, maintaining satellite transmissions, and even training on their marksmanship skills.

The training was especially important because members of the unit will be deploying overseas later this year, and according to 290th Commander Lt. Col. Loretta Lombard the majority of her Airmen are highly trained experts whose technical skills will be invaluable in any environment.

“We are very fortunate and I feel very blessed to have the people in this unit that we do,” Lombard explained, noting many of the Airmen hold civilian jobs in the communications industry. “…(They do) everything from the front-end customer service to working with CISCO, Verizon telephone and everything else. They’ve got day-to-day capabilities that they’re bringing over and rolling in on the military mission.”

One of those experts was Staff Sgt. Glenn Shotwell, a satellite operator and maintainer who is a full-time student studying electrical engineering. During a break in the training he noted that many of the other Airmen he works with at the 290th bring their civilian skills to the Air Guard mission and are enthusiastic about being part of the unit.

“Some bring their expertise from satellite companies,” Shotwell said. “Some of them work with network companies and different firms, and they actually bring their knowledge from there…We have some resident experts that are good at switches and routers, and they bring that from their civilian jobs to us to help train us.”

The 290th’s Senior Master Sgt. Troy Herr agreed that the technical expertise of some of the Airmen was necessary to train the rest of the unit on the intricacies of military communications. He said this was especially important because some of the traditional members of the unit were only exposed to communications equipment a couple times a year.

“Our skills here are amazing,” Herr explained. “But it takes a long time to master these skills and we don’t have the same luxuries of an active duty unit that trains 24-7. We’ve got to train these Airmen on extremely technical equipment once a month, and during annual training.”

Throughout the year members of the 290th JCSS are deployed to locations throughout the world supporting U.S. military exercises and operations. The unit also has responsibility this year for a communications mission to support first responders during state emergencies like hurricanes and other natural disasters.