July 15, 2008

Joint Operations Center keeps things moving

By Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hampton
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

(From left to right) Staff Sgt. Paula Betz and Sgt. 1st Class Butch Downing, both operations nonommissioned officers for Joint Operations, oversee Sgt. John Aird, a journal NCO, as he monitors incidents during training  at the Joint Operations Center Exercise (JOCEX) at Fort  Pickett, Va., June 25. (Photo by Spc. Geoff Dudley, Virginia Guard Public Affairs.)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes whenever the Virginia National Guard is called on for assistance? Or how the Adjutant General keeps track of thousands of  personnel  conducting  missions all over the globe? 

You might be surprised to learn that a small group of highly professional Guardsman who work around the clock are responsible for these monumental tasks. They are the members of  the  Joint Operations Center (JOC ).

 The JOC is the Guard’s incident management control center that monitors situations statewide and around the world. Wherever Virginia Guardsman may be, the JOC is there to keep track of them.

“They are the eyes and ears of the TAG,” said Capt. Jim Morris, officer in charge (OIC) of the JOC. “A group of dedicated Guardsman who work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure that the lines of communication remain open, and to identify potential situations that could impact the Virginia National Guard or the State.”

Although the JOC has been in operation for some time, it was not until after the terror attacks of 9/11 that the JOC was reconfigured to boost communication and incident management capabilities.  This reconfiguration paved the way for a significant upgrade in mission tasking and  allowed for interoperability with other agencies and emergency services within the state as well as JOCs from other states.

Along with this came new skill sets, raising the bar for those assigned. However, according to Morris the Virginia Guard has no shortage on talent.

“We have a great team working in the JOC, each one was hand-picked based on their experience and expertise,” Morris said. “Many of them have several deployments under their belts and are used to working in stressful environments. The Virginia Guard is full of people with great skills and it really shows here.”

When JOC personnel are not actively engaged in an emergency situation, they keep busy monitoring weather activity, retrieving communications  and evaluating intelligence reports. Information from combat zones where Virginia Guard troops are located, as well as other operations around the world, are fed directly to the JOC.

Since 9/11, the JOC has managed an array of situations from Hurricane Katrina, border missions in Southwest Arizona, and numerous deployments, to flooding and forest fires right here at home.

Earlier this year, Gov. Tim Kaine declared a state of emergency in response to wildfires reported in over 60 localities. Within minutes, the JOC sprung into action.

Working with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), the JOC coordinated the fire line training  and movement of 100 guard personnel to Bedford and Roanoke counties and placed two Blackhawk helicopters into service .

It was just one  example of  how the JOC interfaces with other agencies to get help where it is needed. Between June 22- 27, the JOC participated in an exercise dubbed “Operation Cardinal Defense.” It was a scenario- based exercise that focused on terrorist activity in Northern Virginia. 

As hurricane season shifts into high gear, JOC personnel keeps a watchful out for any potential storms that may be headed our way.

“We track any storm that develops  in its infancy stage, whether it be on the horn of Africa or in the Caribbean. If it has a track that might impact our state, we initiate a warning order 120 hours out,”  Morris said. “This lets our units know to be on standby and to await further instructions.”  

During an emergency, there is nothing more important than getting help to those in need. From natural disasters to homeland security, the JOC is the nerve center of the Virginia Guard.

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