New Jersey Guard soldiers and airmen teamed up with active-duty service members from the Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as civilians from U.S. Northern Command, to establish a joint operations center to coordinate nearly 700 members of the New Jersey National Guard responding to the COVID-19 pandemic across the state.
The JOC provides key leaders in the state with a constant flow of information and updates they require to make decisions.
“We are essentially a liaison office between the Office of Emergency Management and the rest of the New Jersey National Guard,” Army Spc. Benjamin Castria, a full-time JOC team member, said. “We also receive requests from the National Guard Bureau down in Washington, D.C., asking for updates on what we’re doing to support the COVID-19 response efforts.”
According to Castria, the JOC also receives requests from the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Department of Health, through the New Jersey Regional Operations and Intelligence Center, the steady-state nerve center that serves as New Jersey’s primary focal point for information sharing and intelligence production needed to support law enforcement, counter-terrorism and homeland security missions.
While JOC team members normally operate out of the Homeland Security Center of Excellence in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, they had to get creative with the outbreak of COVID-19. To keep the mission going, the New Jersey National Guard JOC became the first JOC in the country to shift to 100% telework capabilities.
“For the first week, we operated the JOC remotely,” Army Master Sgt. Rene Sales, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the JOC, said. “It offered a unique set of challenges, but we made the mission happen, and kept everyone healthy.”
Even though staff members have returned, JOC personnel are spread out around the building in accordance with established social distancing protocol.
Logistics experts, active duty liaison officers, medical officers, and intelligence analysts make up some of the JOC workforce.
“The joint effort has definitely been a beneficial and instrumental part of this operation,” Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Timothy Jardinico, the officer in charge of the joint directorate of intelligence and security, said. “We get to see it from different perspectives, from all levels of the organization.”
Air Force Master Sgt. Kimberly Kaminski, a security forces airman with the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 108th Wing, has been acting as a liaison between the state’s two Wings and the JOC.
“It’s a whole different view,” Kaminski said. “To do missions like this means a lot to me. Humanitarian missions like this are a big part of why I enlisted. My family was affected by hurricanes Floyd and Irene, and the National Guard came out and helped us, so it feels good to be able to give back.”
Air Force Col. Mike Smith, deputy Title 10 commander, who is assigned to U.S. Northern Command, said it was his team’s role to support the dual-status commander, Air Force Brig. Gen. Wayne McCaughey, and the deployed forces throughout the state, including Army reserve soldiers with Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force 352-2. McGaughey is the director of the New Jersey Guard’s joint staff.
“The Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force soldiers come from all over the country,” Smith said. “Wisconsin, Florida, California and many others, coming together for the first time to work together supporting New Jersey.”
“The folks that make the most impact are the doctors and nurses, and our active duty and reserve staff that are augmenting hospitals,” Coast Guard Cmdr. Shana Donaldson, a member of the U.S. Northern Command Team, said. “We’ve got Title 10 medical providers all over the state doing just amazing things.”
Even though they aren’t on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, JOC service members recognize the key role they play.
“What our team does is very important and a big responsibility,” Castria said, “What we’re doing here has a direct impact on what they’re doing in the field. Being able to relay information correctly and accurately and quickly is critical to the mission.”
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