Camp Shelby is key link in task force's communications chain

CAMP SHELBY, Miss.'The headquarters for Joint Task Force Katrina's operations is a desolate, 136,000-acre facility that once stretched from Hattiesburg to the banks of the Mississippi River.

"Our primary focus is to ensure we interface with communications organizations here and down range," said Air Force Major Michael Polley, who is at Camp Shelby as part of a three-member team from the Defense Information Systems Agency. "We are ensuring satellite links and Internet connections are available."

Founded in 1917, Camp Shelby was once considered the largest military training site in the world, at more than 700,000 acres. But the camp was deactivated in the 1930s for about a decade before being reactivated as a smaller training site for active-duty, National Guard and Reserve Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force personnel during World War II, according to Army Col. Doril Danders, spokesman for the camp. German prisoners of war were held at Camp Shelby during World War II.

Even today, military units conduct rigorous physical exercises and perfect their rifle firing at Camp Shelby'still the largest state-owned-and-operated field training site in the country'before being deployed to Kuwait, Iraq or Afghanistan.

But when Hurricane Katrina hit, Camp Shelby, because of its central location, became an instant mobilization center for emergency search and rescue efforts in New Orleans. Gen. Russel Honore stays here and makes daily trips across the region to survey the damage and to assist in rescue missions.

A huge support to the emergency efforts is the tactical communications infrastructure, built and maintained by elements of the Army, Defense Information Systems Agency and J-6 out of the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo. The communications infrastructure is giving ground troops a means to provide status updates via e-mail, cell phones and videoconferences.

Henry Young, a satellite specialist with DISA, said the network connections are coming across the Defense Information Systems Network.

"When they want to access anything it's via the DISN network. We provide that path. But they (military personnel) use their own individual pieces of tactical equipment to access it," Young said.

GCN staff writer Dawn Onley is embedded with the Army's 93rd Signal Brigade in Camp Shelby, Miss. She will be sending reports on how the military is helping restore communications in Mississippi, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.

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