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Networking soldiers:
Keeping commo up is all in a day's work for Signal teams

by SSG Tim Volkert

FORT HOOD, Texas � It�s about 6:30 a.m. June 11, and the sounds of humming generators are broken up as soldiers begin arriving on-site.

After going to their work areas to report in, the night shift emerges from the camouflage netting to attend the morning shift-change brief, grab a quick bite to eat and head back to the barracks to get some sleep.

With a breakfast hot out of a mermite, the day shift moves to the cover of the nets and begins their daily routines.

For a Signal team, the days can range from routine to hectic, depending on the equipment and if the signals are coming in loud and clear.

After getting the brief from the night crewmembers, SPC Chad Varney and SPC Sandra Pohl � tactical-satellite team members from Company A, 40th Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, Fort Huachuca, Ariz. � prepare their site for the day ahead.

Pohl heads off for guard duty at the site�s main entrance and will be standing on point for the battalion�s force protection for two hours.

Varney does preventive maintenance, checks and services on the team�s vehicles, fuels up the generators and checks over the equipment.

SGT Tom Davis uses engineer tape to tie cables together SGT Tom Davis, a tactical-satellite team chief from Company A, 40th Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, Fort Huachuca, Ariz., uses engineer tape to tie cables together. Davis' team deployed to Fort Hood, Texas, to participate in the Grecian Firebolt exercise.
TEAM2.JPG (51511 bytes) SPC Edgar Oullette, a TACSAT-systems operator and maintainer from Company A, 40th Signal Battalion, hooks up the dehydrator to the wave guide on a TACSAT dish. Oullette and his team were part of 40th Signal Battalion's operations at Fort Hood during exercise Grecian Firebolt.

Once the morning routine is finished, one member of the team must remain in or nearby the satellite truck at all times just in case one of the alarms go off, signifying a problem with the network.

The TACSAT team�s mission during exercises Grecian Firebolt and POLEX was to send and receive signals from the battalion here to Fort A.P. Hill, Va.; the Northwest standardized tactical-entry point facility in Virginia; and Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico.

With the equipment up and running, the only sound on Varney�s site is the humming of the generator and the buzzing and whining of network equipment lining both walls of the satellite truck. Most people would look in the truck and become dazed by the dozens of wires, the digital readings on the equipment and all the buttons and switches.

The job is definitely more mental than physical, said Varney, who has been on various communications teams for three years.

"The biggest challenge is when the system goes down," he said, "but I enjoy fixing things and figuring out what�s going on."

As the day rolls on, Pohl and Varney sit in the truck, making sure all systems are running properly and answering the occasional phone call from the nodal operations center or battalion operations checking on the status of links.

It can be tough keeping the communications going because their team�s equipment is only one piece of the network, said PFC Randy Sawyers, another member of the team.

He said they have to keep a close eye on the links because if they go down, the phones will start ringing from people wanting to know what�s happening.

Most problems, however, are solved in a short amount of time, and then the machines go back to their usual humming and the soldiers can relax.

On this exercise, the teams had the luxury of having two members on shift together, said the team�s chief, SGT Tom Davis.

Usually, teams only have one person per shift, said Varney. Having a team member around really helps keep shifts from seeming too long, Varney said.

As 6 p.m. nears, the night-shift team members show up on-site. The morning scene repeats itself, and the process of briefings and updates gets the refreshed soldiers back in the loop.

However, Davis� team members from the day shift don�t just grab their dinners and run. The entire team sits in the shade provided by the truck and talks, laughs and seems to enjoy being around each other.

Communication is "crucial because when coming on the shift, you have to know what that person did, and if there�s not good communication on the team, then you�re lost inside the van because you don�t know what happened that shift and what links are up or down," Sawyers said.

When soldiers enjoy being around each other, it makes the team a great asset to the company, Davis said.

"The best thing about our team is that we complement each other," he said. "Now, we�re just like one big, strong net. Anything that happens � among the four of us � we can handle it without a problem. I�ve got the best team in the world."

SSG Volkert is assigned to 11th Signal Brigade�s public-affairs office at Fort Huachuca.

Acronym QuickScan
TACSAT � tactical satellite

dividing rule

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