Oregon Guardsmen deploy to Puerto Rico in response to Hurricane Maria

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

In the aftermath of three devastating hurricanes that stuck Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean region of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, eight Oregon Air National Guardsmen deployed to Puerto Rico, Sept. 29, in response to Hurricane Maria.

To restore vital communications capabilities, the Oregon Airmen from the 142nd Fighter Wing’s Communications Flight (CF), will be providing emergency communications for both the National Guard and civilian first responders.

Hurricane Maria’s devastating effects have overwhelmed the electrical grid and downed most of its telephone wires in Puerto Rico. Utilizing the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC) will provide satellite service while interlacing communication assets between the two agencies with internet, telephone, and radio communication.

Building on lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, civilian and military first responders could not talk to each other on separate systems. The JISCC is a 20-foot mobile communications system, which allows for interoperability between the two agencies, providing a streamlined system for the emergency responders.

 “Heading out the door, we’re fully self-sufficient with generators, a ton of diesel fuel, food and the ability to shelter wherever we need to work,” said Master Sgt. Gus Johnson, noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the rapid deployment team.

When the Oregon Air National Guard deployed to Katrina, they did so with over 40 members and supported the Oregon Army National Guard’s 41st Brigade Combat Team. With a group of eight, the CF members are a marked contrast to how the unit responded when deploying 12 years ago to the Gulf Coast.

 “We took a strictly military, combat communication squadron to Katrina that required a larger force to operate,” Johnson said, comparing the two hurricane response deployments. “With the JISCC; it is lightweight, versatile and we only need eight people to run 24-hour operations.”

 The Airmen train monthly for specific situations like this, setting-up in the field to support domestic operations for other civil authorizes.

 “The team is not compartmentalized, if someone happens to fall out during the mission, another team member can easily step in and work on the system,” he said.

According to the Army Col. Les Melnyk, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, the Puerto Rico National Guard had two on the island, which they took down to protect them before Maria hit. Each system costs about $1.5 million, in total, six more JISCC systems will be added for this hurricane response.

 “Probably the greatest concern is the state of the infrastructure when we get there,” Johnson said. “We’ve been packed and ready to go for the past few days so this is a great opportunity to go and assist.”