By MSgt. Timm Huffman, HQ RIO Public Affairs
/ Published November 24, 2014
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Maj. Kyle Johnson, an Individual Mobilization Augmentee, was recently given the job of establishing command and control capabilities for the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease in Africa.
Johnson, the Africa Command detachment commander, 2nd Joint Communications Squadron, Joint Communications Support Element, was tasked to deploy to the Barclay Training Center, Monrovia, Republic of Liberia, with a team of over 30 civilian and military command-and-control specialists to establish the deployed communications system, to serve as the nerve center for Operation United Assistance.
As an IMA, Johnson was given the opportunity to volunteer for the position of detachment commander with the JCSE, a prestigious tactical communications outfit providing command and control capability to regional combatant commands, special operations command and other agencies within 72 hours.
"I've never been in a unit that does tactical communications, so working with JCSE was exactly what I was looking for," he said.
Not only was OUA his first tactical communications assignment, it was also his first time participating in a humanitarian aid mission.
"When I heard we were deploying in support of OUA, I was very excited to make a difference in the lives of people who are suffering," said the HQ RIO Detachment 3 individual reservist.
In early September, as the Department of Defense began scaling up operations to fight the deadly EVD outbreak in West Africa, Johnson was notified that his unit's services would be required. By Sept. 20, just a week after receiving the call, his first team was on the ground at Barclay Training Center, providing communications support to the Joint Forces Command.
He, and the remainder of his detachment, arrived Oct. 19, aboard three C-17s laden with 185 tons of communications equipment. Once the build-up site was prepared, his team, consisting of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, DoD civilians, and contractors from his detachment in Italy and another detachment in Tampa, Florida, had the core command and control elements operational in 44 hours; four hours under their 48-hour deadline.
"My team worked around the clock in searing heat, humidity and heavy rain to make the operational timeline," said Johnson.
The gear they delivered had everything needed to set up communications for a tactical JFC headquarters, including tents, generators, air conditioning units, computers, communications infrastructure, tables and chairs. The package the team brought to the fight against EVD provided the most sophisticated communications equipment available, including classified and unclassified communications, computers, phones, technical support and video teleconferencing capability.
In addition to the main communications package they established, Johnson and his team also deployed four rapid response kits to locations around Liberia and Senegal to support command and control and logistics hubs.
Located on the Atlantic Ocean and near the heart of Monrovia, Johnson said the Barclay Training Center is beautiful. This beauty is juxtaposed with evidence of the civil wars that have racked Liberia in recent years - the center is surrounded by makeshift homes, poverty is rampant, and everything is dirty. Despite those hardships, and in light of the threat of EVD, he said the locals seem to work hard, and he sees children out playing.
Johnson said that being in close proximity to the local population and only a few kilometers away from a treatment facility makes everyone a little apprehensive. However, they have no contact with those suffering from EVD and strict precautionary measures are in place, such as bleach hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer and twice-daily temperature checks to ensure the disease is not spread.
"I feel confident that my team is safe," he said.
Not only are they safe, but they are also able to live in relative comfort, with 20-person tents to sleep in, access to hot showers, and three meals, ready to eat a day.
"We weren't certain what our living conditions would be like, but I was pleasantly surprised with our accommodations," he said.
With the initial command and control elements in place, Johnson and his team continue to operate and maintain the equipment. The highly-skilled communications specialists also provide network and administrator support, help desk functions and generator mechanics to the JFC.
"[I] have the best professional communicators and maintainers in the Department of Defense, and I'm extremely proud to serve with them," he said.