Air Guardsman wins Utah NG Communications Professional of the Year

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Lillian Harnden
  • 151st ARW/PA
A Utah Air National Guardsman, Chief Master Sgt. Don Johnson who is a cyber systems branch chief with the 151st Communications Flight, was recently awarded 2010 Communications Professional of the Year at the Utah National Guard Communications Conference.

Chief Johnson was overwhelmingly nominated for the award by a pool of communication peers and commanders.

"Chief Johnson deserves the award," said Maj. Kevin Tobias, commander of the 151st CF. "When the JISCC [Joint Incident Site Communications Capability] came here four years ago, it had a lot of things wrong with it. Chief fixed it up. He took it on as his own and never gave up."

The Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC) is more than a pop-up tent that houses communication tools like radio, phone, video and internet. It is a complex network system of wires, routers and satellite feeders that work together to bridge communication gaps during emergencies when no other lines are available. Deployed in each state by the National Guard Bureau, the JISCC is able to arrive at an incident site, where lines are down, and provide global communications within one hour. It links first responders to each other and to those in need of aid. When needed, it becomes the conduit for communication between local, state and federal agencies.

"In the Guard, our state mission is to help people during emergencies," said Chief Johnson. "The JISCC mission is that mission. It has the capacity to support up to 80 phones and 80 laptops when lines are down."

As the joint Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the JISCC, one of Chief Johnson's roles is to ensure that system remains operational. Additionally, he has been the National Guard joint coordinator for scheduling and conducting JISCC training exercises.

"The JISCC is an additional duty, a very busy additional duty," said Major Tobias. "We work additional drills, and a lot of extra hours, to train and practice on the JISCC. Chief Johnson takes on the extra steps, and extra time, to learn and become the best at what he does."

Chief Johnson believes the award should be a team award however.

"If they are going to give an award it should be recognized as a team award, not an individual one," said Chief Johnson. "On the JISCC, everybody has to pitch in. Everybody has to work. Because we're small, and because we are emergency responders, everybody has to work quickly. It takes the whole team working together to make the job happen."

Chief Johnson estimates about one third of the Air Guardsmen in the 151st CF volunteer on the JISCC force. The JISCC is a joint force effort as well. They work with other Air Guard units, as well as with other Army and Special Forces units.

Army National Guard Maj. Ben Morris, the state emergency communications manager, described Chief Johnson's expertise on the JISCC as instrumental to developing communication abilities between first responders and victims.

"During August of last year, Metro Fire Agency conducted a large scale earthquake exercise in Sandy, Utah," said Major Morris. "During this exercise, Chief Johnson's expertise in telecommunication allowed the JISCC to set up its phones so that victims trapped in the building were able to call 911 using their personal cell phones, and then be patched directly to the incident command site. This allowed the victims themselves the ability to directly guide rescuers to their location, thereby controlling their own rescue. Chief Johnson's insight led to the development of a new rescue capability and procedure that will save lives."