Comm Flight supports 2014 Beargrease race
By Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka, 148th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 31, 2014
GRAND MARAIS, Minn. -- The 148th Fighter Wing Communications Flight, Deployable Interoperable Communications Element (DICE) team braved wind chill factors up to 60 below zero to support the 2014 John Beargrease sled dog race that took place in Northern Minnesota during the last week of January, 2014.
The DICE team's deployment site was a wooded area northwest of Grand Marais, Minn. The deployed location had limited road access and no amenities and forced the DICE team to set-up a place that they could sleep and work out of; a place where nothing previously existed.
The deployment gave the DICE team the opportunity to set-up and test their communications equipment. It included establishing communications via a mobile package called the Joint Communications Platform 3 (JCP3). The equipment and technology contained in this package can support both military and civilian operations. Some of the services this package can provide include satellite internet access, radio and phone communications, video teleconferencing (VTC) and satellite television. The package can bridge together separate organizations to allow them all to talk on the same network, be it computer, radio or phone networks.
"We test all capabilities of the JCP3," said Master Sgt. Bryan T. Druar, DICE team leader. "To us, this is a functionality test/exercise of our equipment before we deploy to a real world crisis, such as a flood fight. In addition to communication operability, we also perform training on tent set-up and get some exposure to cold weather survival."
Besides lending communication support for the race, the DICE team also provides direct support to each Musher. "We provide safety while they cross Pike Lake Road and we have the capability to provide first aid and shelter should the Musher need it," said Druar. "In the past we have assisted in searching for Mushers that may have been lost on the trail. In addition, we provide HAM radio contact back down to Beargrease Net Control to keep them informed of the sled dog teams that pass our location."
"The annual local deployment in support of the John Beargrease sled dog race provides the 148th Communications Flight with a real world training exercise," said Lt. Col. James E. Stauber, 148th Fighter Wing, Communications Flight Commander. "Not only does it give us the opportunity to test our command and control capabilities in austere conditions, it also allows us to build a level of confidence and camaraderie among our Airmen that we can't get anywhere else. Additionally, this training exercise gives us the opportunity to maintain or expand the relationships we have built with local emergency management personnel and local residents."
The first remote John Beargrease training deployment to Northern Minnesota happened over 20 years ago in 1993. "The concept to support the race came out of a round table discussion which identified the need to provide Wing leadership with a DICE team. The vision was to have a rapid deployable command and control capability that the Wing Commander could call upon at any time, an example would be a downed F-16 in remote Northern Minnesota. Due to this, we looked at doing an annual remote training exercise in Northern Minnesota and supporting the Beargrease at the same time turned out to be a perfect fit," said Stauber.
Over the years, the DICE team has been activated on numerous occasions to provide command and control support. They have always been well prepared and successful, thanks in part to the annual training exercises in support of the John Beargrease sled dog marathon.