Capt. Jeffrey J. Arsenault: Deployable comms aid supply effort

Hurricane Katrina tested Arsenault’s leadership, but his personality and training helped him overcome obstacles to supporting Air Force relief efforts

Hurricane Katrina tested Capt. Jeffrey Arsenault’s leadership, but his personality and training helped him overcome broken fuel hoses and other obstacles to supporting Air Force relief efforts in New Orleans.

Arsenault, 28, received a phone call a few days after Katrina hit ordering him to deploy. He and his airmen had only 12 hours to pack. Arsenault and 10 service members loaded communications equipment at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and drove in a convoy to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

They installed secure and nonsecure voice and data systems and maintained them for Air Force commanders who coordinated the movement of equipment, supplies and displaced people.

The Katrina mission was the first in which the Air Force used its Deployable Initial Communications Equipment (DICE), which is a smaller, lighter version of the service’s $15 million Theater Deployable Communications suite.

“His quick response and dedication set the baseline for future responses to humanitarian contingencies,” said Maj. Andrew Ryan, commander of the 31st Combat Communications Squadron.

Lt. Col. Chris Cotts, commander of the 3rd Combat Communications Group, said Arsenault “walked into a very confusing situation.” The mission was DICE’s first operational assignment, and the airmen had trained to put the equipment on airplanes, not on trucks, as required in this case.

Arsenault’s team persevered during a two-day, 750-mile road trip to New Orleans. Truck tires blew out. Fuel hoses broke. He learned the importance of keeping calm under pressure during the mission.

“You cannot let the unexpected control you by throwing your hands up, running around and micromanaging,” said Arsenault, a flight commander of base level systems at the 31st Combat Communications Squadron.

As the convoy encountered one problem after another, Arsenault gathered his airmen, joked about the situation and then devised a solution. A sense of humor, perhaps more than his military training, was the biggest help as he confronted a variety of setbacks, Arsenault said. “I like to keep a good sense of humor. It keeps spirits up.”

His training kicked in, however, when he was packing and operating DICE. The technical part of the mission went relatively smoothly. The airmen worked for two days and nights to set up DICE.

About four weeks later, back at Tinker, Arsenault got a call from Cotts asking him to drive to Texas to prepare for Hurricane Rita.

Photos copyright 2006 Tom Gilbert/WPN.

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