Florida - Beyond State Lines
By Lt Justin Phillips, 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron
/ Published October 18, 2016
MacDill AFB Fla. -- Florida's National Guard mobilized thousands in response to Hurricane Matthew in the state of Florida alone but the response went far beyond the sunshine state.
Four of Florida's Air National Guard Airmen were in a third world country before the storm even made landfall with the United States. These Airmen are part of the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron (290 JCSS) who are currently tasked as the Global Response Force (GRF) assigned to the elite Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE).
The GRF is on call 24/7 to respond anywhere in the globe within hours of notification. The Florida Air National Guard's 290 JCSS provides seven communicators and an officer to the elements team of approximately 20.
The GRF team stood ready at MacDill AFB as the world witnessed Haiti sustain Matthew's devastating blow that affected more than a million people, killed nearly 1,000, damaged 200k homes and nearly eliminated the nation's communications infrastructure.
Soon after Matthew departed Haiti the team of 290 JCSS members were tasked to stand up an early entry tactical communications capability for Joint Task Force (JTF) Matthew in Port au Prince, Haiti. They were on a C-130 and in country within 36 hours of being notified of the need.
"The flight was lengthy due to flying around the storm, leaving us tired and hungry upon arrival," said Tech. Sgt. Hamilton, 290 JCSS GRF member. "But we knew that no mission is possible if the ability to communicate isn't there--so that's what we immediately began providing for the Joint Task Force."
The four Airmen provided secure phone, video conference and internet capabilities for the JTF's Joint Operations Center via tactical satellite dishes.
When not working the communications piece the team took part in humanitarian missions, delivering supplies to portions of Haiti most impacted by Matthew.
"This mission truly humbles you as a person; to witness so many who are so grateful for things as simple as rice and water," said Master Sgt. Peterson, 290 JCSS GRF team lead. "I have provided comms in a lot of rough places but seeing the devastation here has been eye opening."
As Haiti's communication capabilities become available and more support arrives the need for these four Airmen from the Florida National Guard will go away, but the value they brought in the time of need will not be forgotten.