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Guard Nerve Centers Prove Key to Inaugural, National Missions

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Jan. 20, 2009 – When National Guard soldiers and airmen show up for the thousands of missions they perform, they know they’re part of the right unit, in the right place, at the right moment. But, getting them to a mission does not happen by chance.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
The National Guard Bureau's soldiers and airmen attend a Multi-agency Coordination Center video teleconference at the Bureau's Joint Coordination Center in Crystal City, Va., Jan. 18, 2009, to communicate their inaugural efforts to a host of other government agencies supporting the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

That's partly because the joint staff at the National Guard Bureau, along with the Army and Air Guard's readiness centers work behind the scenes with the states and territories to put the Guard’s best foot forward.

The National Guard's support to the current presidential inauguration is no different, but its footprint is nearly four times larger than any in previous inaugurations.

“The last 30 days have been pretty intense,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. William Etter, director of Domestic Operations at the Bureau, referring to the coordination and deployment of some 9,300 Guardsmen. “The last time I checked, 33 states were involved.”

Just before the Guard’s Inauguration Day support, soldiers and airmen at the National Guard Bureau Joint Coordination Center, the Army Guard Readiness Center and the Air Guard Readiness Center were busy fine tuning last-minute details.

Although their work and cooperation was not as readily visible as the thousands of Guardmembers providing ceremonial and security support, Etter said JoCC Guardmembers’ participation is equally vital.

The Guard Bureau JoCC

The JoCC is the Bureau’s nerve center for the presidential inauguration and for all its current operations. Its members, located in Crystal City, Va., are working 24/7 operations for both missions.

The center should not be confused with the states’ and territories’ Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) operations centers. Each state’s JFHQ provides the command and control of Guard forces for its governor.

“The Bureau and the readiness centers do not command, but we synchronize,” said Etter. He explained that their missions help coordinate use of Guard assets between the Army Guard, the Air Guard and the states.

“I think that we have a very well coordinated effort for the inauguration,” said Etter, who added the inaugural is one of their largest non-emergency missions to date.

As a mission comes in, the JoCC finds what assets the states’ Army and Air Guards can best support it. This includes personnel and equipment.

Helping with those support requests was Army Sgt. Christopher Pyle, message center NCO, who is working his first inauguration.

“We get all the e-mails coming from the states. Then we sort through them and send them where they need to go,” said Pyle. On a busy day, that can add up to nearly 200 messages.

Pyle sat before a wall of televisions and computer screens. He combed through a flurry of messages. He looked through personnel rosters.

An automated message system - called the Joint Information Exchange Environment - helps manage requests to the JoCC. The JIEE provides special codes used to push requests to officials as well as to Army and Air Guard liaisons. The liaisons help communicate those requests to their respective readiness centers.

“It’s a good process,” said Etter. “We have taken past procedures from events and formalized them. This is the first chance we had to slow down and capture those best procedures.”

For the inauguration, the extreme volume of messages had so many JoCC members busy that some chose to sleep on cots at the Bureau. But the experience was welcome, they said.

“We see how everyone is tied together,” said Pyle. “I heard that before Hurricane Katrina, no one really talked to each other, but now I see the government agencies coordinating.”

Much cross-agency talk is held via video teleconferences hosted by the Multi-agency Coordination Center. The MACC coordinated a vast array of government agencies for the inauguration.

“You can’t think of a single agency not represented,” said Etter after Sunday’s MACC VTC. He added “it’s heartwarming and encouraging” to see everyone cooperating for the same goal: the protection of U.S. citizens and visitors who have arrived in Washington, D.C., to see the inauguration.

“When all is said and done for this inaugural, any success can be attributed to a combination of everyone working together and to the great leadership of Maj. Gen. [Errol] Schwartz, the commanding general of the D.C. Guard,” he said.

The Army Guard Watch

Army Maj. Leafay Jones, the JoCC’s Army Guard liaison officer, sat in the JoCC and monitored messages.

As the Guard’s soldiers meet demands brought by the nation’s domestic callouts and the war fight, thousands are supporting the inauguration with ceremonial units and military police, among many other missions. Soldiers in both Maryland and Virginia are supporting law enforcement and transportation agencies. Still others are supporting communications and traffic control. Nearly 13,000 also are prepared to support civil authorities on short notice, in case of an emergency.

Jones helped organize that record number of inaugural support Soldiers with the JoCC and Army “Watch” relationship.

The Watch is a 24-hour crisis response team located at the ARNGRC in Arlington, Va.

“Once a request is assigned to an Army asset, I will determine if we can source it through the people at the Watch,” Jones said.

The Watch is made up of a battle captain, a shift officer-in-charge and several NCOs. The soldiers maintain communications with the states’ JFHQs as well as with deployed Guard Soldiers and units.

“When they pass a request over to us, we look and see if there are forces available to provide the capability, and we also look at the resources necessary,” said Army Col. Hank Amato, chief of the ARNGRC operations division.

Amato said the ARNGRC has increased its manning for the inauguration by bringing in soldiers from the District of Columbia National Guard to augment their Watch and Crisis Action Team.

“We’re a dynamic organization that expands and contracts based on the missions,” said Amato.

Amato said the Watch and CAT are just one piece of the expanding ARNGRC, where the Guard Bureau’s JoCC and its staff plan to relocate to by 2011.

The Air Guard Crisis Action Center

In the Bureau’s JoCC, Air Guard liaison officers sit across from their Army Guard counterparts. The entire JoCC staff surrounds both.

“We work between the Army and the Air Force right here, real time, to figure out what each service can provide [for a mission],” said Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher Beckman, Air Guard branch chief for aviation planning.

Much like the Army Watch, the Air Guard Crisis Action Team at the ANGRC on Andrews Air Force Base, Md., coordinates between their liaison officers and the JFHQs to provide Air Guard assets for missions.

For the presidential inauguration, their efforts have helped bring a large amount of Air Guard support for inaugural ceremonies and security.

Among other Air Guard support, the District’s entire 113th Wing is helping with transportation, security, in-processing, ceremonial marching and other missions. From other states, a large contingent of medical airlift specialists is working with federal agencies. Services personnel are providing hot meals. Still, others are helping at traffic and pedestrian stations.

Nearly 50 airmen also are manning the ANGRC CAT 24/7 for inauguration support, said Air Force Lt. Col. Allen Minick, its director.

“I consider it a major effort on the part of our CAT, the Center and the states’ airmen,” said Minick.

First staffed in 2005, the ANG CAT’s high-security room includes television screens that relay VTCs as well as live newscasts. The CAT’s technical capabilities include secure network communications and data links that receive, manage and communicate JIEE messages and other communications.

“We have functional managers here who know the status of Air Guard equipment and airmen,” said Minick.

During a crisis, Minick said the CAT can have as many as 140 Airmen operating around the clock to support the states, federal agencies and civilian responders.

When all is said and done, the states and territories will have sent their modern-day minutemen and women to the nation's capital to help usher in a new president and commander in chief for the ultimate change of command ceremony.

(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith is a member of the National Guard.)

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