by SSG Jack Siemieniec
FORT A.P. HILL, Va. � More than 1,800 Signal soldiers were recently in the field, conducting their own training and supporting several other exercises.
Called Grecian Firebolt 2001, it was billed as the world�s largest communications exercise. A multicomponent, joint endeavor, GF �01 brought together Army active duty and reserve, as well as Army and Air National Guard Signal assets June 15-30.
From Korea to Puerto Rico and across the continental United States, the exercise connected 28 locations with tactical Signal support.
The 311th Theater Signal Command, based at Fort Meade, Md., was executive agent for GF �01. As such, it was tasked by its higher headquarters, Army Signal Command, to plan and maintain command and control during the exercise. To this end, 311th sent more than 50 percent of its command to Virginia.
Also deploying from Fort Meade were soldiers from 55th Signal "Combat Camera" Company. They tasked out four documentation teams to cover the associated activities.
Principal active-duty Signal units involved were 11th Signal Brigade, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; 93d Signal Brigade, Fort Gordon, Ga.; 1st Signal Brigade, Seoul, Korea; 516th Signal Brigade, Fort Shafter, Hawaii; and 1108th Signal Brigade, Fort Detrick, Md.
Joining them were 228th and 261st Signal brigades from the South Carolina and Delaware Army National Guards, respectively.
In addition to the Army units, a number of Air National Guard units were represented.
"This was the largest Signal exercise ever," said MG George Bowman, 311th�s commander. He added that the network constructed was even larger than the system in place during Operation Desert Storm.
"This was a world communications exercise," added LTC Juan Rosa, chief of 311th�s operations division.
Rosa explained the intent of the exercise was to deploy Signal forces worldwide, field all equipment, design viable communications networks and test those premises and soldiers. During the course of Grecian Firebolt, the Signal community managed voice, video and data information and operated and maintained all applicable systems.
"Our main objective on this exercise was to train as we will fight," Rosa said. "Basically, one of the things we tried to do was exercise our brigades as if we were operating in our field of operations. Also, we�re exercising the 311th staff to develop the skills necessary to command and control multiple brigades."
Rosa explained that�s sometimes a challenge for a reserve unit.
"When you don�t have that direct coordination with the units, it�s completely different when you take them out to the field," he said. "You�ve got four brigades � with completely different missions � all at the same time, and you try not only to do communication support, but also logistics support and administrative support.
"Our general wasn�t only responsible for A.P. Hill, but he was also responsible for all these locations where Signal soldiers were deployed," Rosa said.
At the top of the communications pyramid for the exercise were the four Defense Satellite Communications System III satellites, explained SGT Jason Perkins, a ground-mobile-forces manager. Perkins is a military-occupation specialty 31S (satellite communicator/operator/maintainer) assigned to the Regional SATCOM Support Center in Tampa, Fla. RSSC is an Army Space Command unit.
On the ground, Perkins said up to as many as 28 multichannel tactical-satellite terminals transmitted to � and received from � the DSCS IIIs. He said AN/TSC-85B/C, 93C, 94B and 143 versions were employed.
The exercise also used tropospheric-scatter radio terminals (which bounce message traffic off the troposphere and back to earth), line-of-sight antennas and land lines (the hard wires that connect users).
Besides the four satellites, 28 TACSAT terminals and 17 tactical telephone-circuit switches, the GF network included five strategic tactical-entry points. STEPs provide the interface between the tactical and strategic worlds.
For the exercise, the 311th-designed network architecture was able to provide voice, fax, email and Internet � both secure and non-secure � and multiconference unit videoteleconferencing, according to network controllers from the deputy chief of staff for operations.
SFC Lance Forbes of 67th Signal Company, 93d Signal Brigade, is the senior noncommissioned officer of the wide-area network section. He and his soldiers oversaw both the secure and non-secure Internet protocol routed networks, along with VTC and Defense Switch Network traffic.
Forbes said the exercise subscribers included about 200 NIPRNET and voice and about 20 SIPRNET users.
"The intent of Grecian Firebolt is to exercise all communications assets, to try to use all your assets that are available on the communications side," Rosa said.
He explained the exercise really had two main thrusts.
It was first and foremost a Signal endeavor. But the Signal units weren�t just talking or transmitting to one another. They were also supporting a number of concurrent exercises involving other specialties.
There was POLEX, highlighting quartermaster job skills; Golden Medic, for the military medical community; TRANSLOT, for the transportation field; and Silver Scimitar, designed for honing personnel management and services.
The 311th Theater Signal Command and the rest of the Signal community have looked upon these other exercises as their customers, or subscribers. As such, there has been close coordination in the planning phases to ensure customer satisfaction.
"For us, one of the things we were using was VTC. VTC was a success story," Rosa explained. "We were trained on that equipment; we purchased our own VTC suite. We were using a conference bridge that combined multiple points into one VTC, and we were managing that."
There were five locations served with VTC. The 311th talked with, and saw, their units at Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Dix, N.J.; forts Story and A.P. Hill in Virginia; and Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
"The VTC wasn�t only primarily for us, but for any customer within those areas of operations. At those five points, if they needed to talk to any of their subordinate units at any of those locations, VTC was another service provided to the customer as well," Rosa said. "VTC isn�t new, but for 311th Theater Signal Command to deploy, install and operate a VTC, it was definitely a training-objective success for us."
Along on the exercise was a contingent of logistics-assistance representatives.
Falling under Army Materiel Command, LARs are Department of the Army civilians who support the systems soldiers and their commanders are employing. For GF, there were representatives from Communications-Electronics Command and Tank and Automotive Command.
LARs assist at all levels, advising commanders how to improve the network or visiting field sites, giving hands-on instructions on troubleshooting to soldiers in their Signal vans.
According to Don Mumma, a CECOM LAR from Fort Gordon, Ga., many times major communications outages are prevented from these types of site visits.
TACOM LARs provide the same type of help to commanders and soldiers in the field through their logistical support and training on all wheeled-vehicle equipment.
Before GF�s start, Rosa saw the planning and coordination as the biggest challenge to be conquered.
"All it takes is to actually develop a network architecture and to bring the people to bear and execute that mission," he said. "And once you execute it, the next challenge is not only to maintain that architecture but also command and control through the exercise.
"That was basically our biggest challenge, and we were successful at it," Rosa said. "I feel very confident we were able to execute excellent command and control of the network. What we planned was what we executed, and it worked."
SSG Siemieniec is an Army Reservist assigned to Army Signal Command.
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