by Lisa Alley
As you read this, 249th Signal Battalion has just deployed not only to a war-torn land, but onto ground Americas National Guard hasnt trod before. The Signal battalion, which is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and supports 49th Armored Division, will be part of the Stabilization Force in Bosnia.
When 249th Signal Battalion learned it would be deploying to Bosnia, it also knew it had an obstacle the Active Component doesnt have: that every Guard soldier deploying had to be a volunteer. As the first Guard Signal unit to be part of the SFOR, 249th walked the unbeaten path in getting ready for deployment. And some Guard soldiers left well-paying jobs to become full-time Active Guard Reserves for an entire year before deployment.
"This past year has been a challenge, especially with putting the faces in the places," said MAJ Janice Hartman, 249th Signal Battalions S-3 and a full-time AGR in the unit since 1991. "But times are exciting right now. Troops deploying are excited for the opportunity to serve.
"There have been many long hours and days in preparation for this deployment," Hartman said. "Our traditional soldiers have put in more than 100 days of extra duty in preparation."
To get ready to deploy, the Signal battalion worked with its active-duty counterparts beginning in January 1999. Also, 18 soldiers from 40th Signal Battalion, part of 11th Signal Brigade at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., are deploying with 249th to provide tactical-satellite support. The Guard Signal battalion is a mobile-subscriber-equipment unit.
"Well be deploying 172 soldiers to install, operate and maintain the MSE communications architecture currently in place in Bosnia," Hartman said. She noted that the unit planned to take 104 pieces of their own Signal equipment, as well as 40th Signal Battalions TACSAT equipment, with them.
"This has been an exciting year and a real teaming effort with our active-duty counterparts, the (Guard soldiers) employers and the citizens of our community," noted Hartman. "Weve had much assistance from 3d Signal Brigade, 16th Signal Battalion, 57th Signal Battalion and 13th Signal Battalion."
The active-duty Signaleers gave their time and expertise to their Guard counterparts and helped them draw up a "road to Bosnia" training plan, Hartman said. "Weve trained with them on our drill weekends since October 1998," she noted. "Weve sat in on their training meetings. Thirty of them have augmented us full-time for more than a year."
Just before the 1999 holiday season, 249th Signal Battalion spent 38 days at Fort Polk, La., on a mission-rehearsal exercise to prepare for the Bosnia deployment, according to Hartman. The MRE marked the first time 249th Signal Battalion had integrated with TACSAT, and they upgraded and tested their small extension nodes. The Guard Signal unit also did theater-specific training, such as dealing with civilians on the battlefield, or probing the minefields the Guard soldiers will find in Bosnia.
"The MRE was also the first time wed had that big of a tactical local-area network, which was successful," Hartman said. "Our lesson-learned was that we could do this! We hadnt been upgraded to a communications modem, but we were able to pass traffic just fine over the TACLAN. We know we can go into Bosnia with a plain-vanilla network."
Just after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, about half a dozen 249th Signal Battalion soldiers deployed with 3d Signal Brigade in the III Corps Road Runner 00 exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. There they saw the integrated-systems control in action.
The holiday season also saw 249ths soldiers working, getting ready to rail-load all their equipment Jan. 8-9. Hartman and other unit members also deployed to Bosnia for a week in January on a "rock drill," or day-to-day rehearsal involving key battalion leaders.
The 249th Signal Battalion received its mobilization order Feb. 5 for its six- to 12-month rotation in Bosnia for SFOR 7. The Guard unit spent a week to 10 days in-processing at Fort Hood, then the battalions main body deployed Feb. 12-13. According to Hartman, 249th Signal Battalion takes responsibility for the communication systems Feb. 22, with the transfer-of-authority completed by March 1.
The division that 249th Signal Battalion supports will be the first Guard division to serve as headquarters for Active and Reserve Component forces participating in SFOR 7, according to Army officials.
Ms. Alley edits Army Communicator.
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