What’s going on behind the Okefenokee Fairgrounds?
Lots of folks may have had that question recently if they spied giant green military tents and equipment erected in the field behind the fairgrounds entrance. The site where the 224th Joint Communications Support Squadron (JCSS) based in Brunswick was conducting training exercises resembled a scene from the iconic television show “M.A.S.H”.
The 224th JCSS is a communications unit of the Air Guard and many of its members are Pierce or Ware County natives. The squadron conducted a 10-day training exercise at the fairgrounds earlier last month where they set up a Joint Force Headquarters package (mobile command center) and members trained in eight-hour blocks, including day shift and night shift communications operations.
It took the squadron just 48 hours to set up the command center — an impressive feat considering the mobile communications center features a giant tent with four wings, a smaller tent, multiple satellites and outdoor equipment.
“We were fully mission capable — in service and equipment — in 48 hours,” says Air Force Major Thomas Naldrett.
Guard members completed training at the primary command center and also underwent training in setting up and operating a smaller hurricane preparedness center the 224th JCSS provides when needed. Approximately 40 guard members participated in the training exercise at the fairgrounds, but if the joint operations center were fully staffed for an actual mission, 60-80 individuals would be in the unit at any given time.
“Our annual training in Waycross featured and showcased the squadron’s ability to deploy a Joint Force Headquarters Package,” Naldrett says.
main goal is to be prepared in case there is a domestic operation that would require this big of a footprint … the other side is if the balloon goes up anywhere else in the world, this unit is one of the units that would be called,” Naldrett explains.
There are only four communications packages like the one the 224th is trained to set up in the U.S.
The 224th was initially scheduled to conduct this training exercise in Minnesota so
they could also practice loading up their equipment for flight, but COVID-19 concerns caused the squadron to locate their training exercise closer to home base. Instead, they practiced loading all of their equipment on flatbed trucks for transport to the set up site at the fairgrounds.
“Training is key. Now more than ever, we have to conduct training in every environment to maintain our edge and focus. I thank the community for supporting our training and look forward to future opportunities,” Naldrett says.
Ever in recruiting mode, Naldrett made sure to tell everyone he met in Ware County the benefits of joining the 224th. The 224th currently has 190 slots and approximately 150 members.
The average airman who joins receives advanced training in the installation, maintenance and support of communications equipment, advanced certifications in information technology (IT), high level security clearance and greatly increased educational benefits such as the Georgia Service Cancelable Loan and Post 911 G.I. BILL. The 224th also offers advanced training in power production, HVAC, vehicle maintenance and other career fields not related to Communications.
The current Commander of the 224th JCSS is Lt. Col. Ryan Hampton and the Senior Enlisted Leader is Chief Master Sergeant Robbie Gaskins of Blackshear.
For recruiting information, contact TSgt Ivan Josue Rivera, Advance GSU Recruiting and Retention NCO, 224th JCSS Georgia Air National Guard, at 1693 Glynco Parkway, Brunswick, GA 31525: 912-261-5604, 312-358-5604 or 912-856-8588.