JTAC plays crucial role during Nate, other hurricanes

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - As Hurricane Nate made its presence known along parts of Louisiana's coast Saturday evening, crews with the National Guard were deployed all across the state, but one group, The U.S. Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers have one of the most crucial tasks during the storm.

"I got notice around 7 this morning and was on the road by 10," said USAF Master Sergeant Mark Simpson.

Simpson got an early start Saturday morning but his work during Nate had just begun moments after the storm made landfall that evening. He is part of many two-man crews on standby ready to roll out at a moment's notice. Their job is to keep the lines of communication open.

"What we do is we set up emergency coms so we have satellite communications and other over the horizon type communications so we can talk anywhere in the world," said Simpson.

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The biggest tool in their arsenal are supped up Humvees usually housed at their base in Pineville, Louisiana. During an emergency, the machines are used to not only keep Governor John Bel Edwards in touch with parish presidents across the state but also to keep an eye on what is needed where. It is a power source without fail.

"What happens is we're on our vehicle power. We also have battery power so we're a stand-alone power to provide that communications," Simpson added.

Crews inside the humvees remain in constant communication with resources in the air and on land to deliver much-needed supplies during the storm, all in real time.

"We've been activated 3 times this year so far," said USAF Lieutenant Colonel Kelly Sullivan.

Sullivan says they have had a busy season so far. Many of the crews deployed now also helped coordinate Coast Guard rescues during Hurricane Harvey.

"We did it a month ago and we're doing it now... but we've got a committed group and we really appreciate what they're doing," said Sullivan.

Often putting others' needs above their own, Simpson, who is from Westlake Louisiana, says the job is tough but also rewarding.

WAFB's Scottie Hunter asked Simpson if it makes him feel good to be able to provide the service for people who live in and around his hometown.

"It's great because we have relatives all throughout the state so it's great to be able to help them out," Simpson replied.

It is a much-needed service in an oftentimes critical situation.

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