by Bill McPherson
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii – Violence erupted in the newly established country of East Timor in September 1999 during the days following its historic vote for independence from the government of Indonesia. Soon countries from around the world committed forces for a United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping operation. The United States sent non-combat forces in a supporting role to the Australian-led Operation Stabilise.
The United States provided planning, communications, intelligence, logistics, strategic lift and civil-affairs support. Also, U.S. forces were part of a multinational force delivering food and medical supplies.
Watch officer MAJ Shelly Matautia of 516th Signal Brigade looks wired in while at work in East Timor's J-6 compound, autumn 1999. (Photo by COL Randolph Strong)
Three soldiers from the dual-hatted 516th Signal Brigade and deputy chief of staff for information management, U.S. Army Pacific, deployed to Australia in late September and early October. They were joined by a soldier from 59th Signal Battalion in Alaska and more than 100 soldiers from sister command 86th Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Members of 516th/DCSIM in Hawaii quickly mobilized to support the deployed Signal soldiers and to input situation reports for higher headquarters.
MSG William Serrano of DCSIM’s tactical-support division deployed Sept. 26 as the spectrum manager for the commander of U.S. International Forces East Timor in Darwin. He returned to Hawaii Dec. 2.COL Randolph Strong, dual-hatted 516th commander and DCSIM, and MAJ Shelly Matautia of DCSIM’s TSD, deployed Oct. 7, initially to Darwin and subsequently to Dili. Strong was assigned as commander of the U.S. Forces East Timor until his return Dec. 17, while Matautia was assigned both as Strong’s watch officer and as the J-6 forward officer for the commander of U.S. INTERFET until her return to Hawaii Dec. 13.
Meanwhile, on Sept. 27, the 516th/DCSIM S-3 section set up a 24-hour East Timor crisis-action team, manned around the clock by headquarters officers and noncommissioned officers to track information for USARPAC, U.S. Pacific Command and Army Signal Command leaders, as well as for the deployed Strong.
Heavily involved in that project were LTC Ray O’Brien, MAJ Justin Pickett, CPT Joseph Berry, Bob Harunaga-Ewing, Dennis Miyamoto and John Tasato – all of TSD.
CPL Christopher Mann, 86th Signal Battalion, works in his 93B tactical-satellite van to get data links in at Baucau, East Timor, to support the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Thai Army with voice and data. (Photo by Chap. (CPT) Kenneth Williams)
MAJ Mary Dixon of 311th Signal Command’s forward cell was assigned temporarily to the USPACOM J-6 office to provide communications planning for Operation Stabilise. O’Brien and John Thorpe, assistant DCSIM, attended daily East Timor situation updates at USARPAC headquarters.
When 86th Signal Battalion was identified to deploy and provide Signal support in East Timor, the 516th staff formed an East Timor support cell to provide liaison to 11th Signal Brigade and 86th Signal Battalion, and to the USARPAC headquarters staff.
LTC James Granger, 516th’s acting commander, communicated regularly with 11th Signal Brigade’s deputy commander, LTC Mark Barnette, while representatives of 516th’s S-1, S-2, S-3 and S-4 coordinated directly with their counterparts at 11th Signal Brigade regarding personnel, security, operational or logistical issues or questions about 86th Signal Battalion Thunderbirds’ deployment.
"Since our sister command was deploying thousands of miles into our theater, we wanted to provide any liaison help we could in easing their deployment," Granger explained. "The time difference from Arizona to East Timor was so vast, we wanted to support them in responding to questions or issues with PACOM, USARPAC and other Pacific-based organizations."
When a C-5 aircraft transporting 86th’s commander, LTC Michael Yarmie, and a contingent of his soldiers to East Timor broke down and was grounded overnight at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, Granger and others of the 516th staff arranged for quarters for the Arizona soldiers and took them to dinner and on tours at the USS Missouri and USS Arizona Memorials.
Other Team Signal units also provided support to Operation Stabilise. In Okinawa, 58th Signal Battalion provided standardized tactical-entry point satellite interface for the operation and assisted 86th Signal Battalion in troubleshooting communications outages affecting Operation Stabilise.
SPC Brian Munday of 59th Signal Battalion deployed from Alaska to support the commander U.S. INTERFET, where he helped build and maintain six local-area networks, maintain a public-access branch exchange telephone system and provide personal computer and LAN support for 14 participating nations.
Hawaii staffers organized Thanksgiving care packages for the Signal soldiers deployed in East Timor.As Signaleers started redeploying back to the United States in late November and December, the 516th/DCSIM East Timor cell stood up again to assist its 11th and 86th counterparts in Arizona.
"Throughout these three months, the 516th/DCSIM family came together as a team and provided outstanding support for Strong and his East Timor command during Operation Stabilise," Granger said. "It was a successful operation because of everyone’s hard work, long hours and contributions."
Mr. McPherson is 516th Signal Brigade’s public-affairs officer. Some information taken from other public-affairs sources.
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