by SSG David Carney
The 142d Signal Brigade (Alabama Army National Guard), headquartered in Decatur, Ala., is the command responsible for providing communications to I Corps, Fort Lewis, Wash. During the recent exercise Warfighter 2000-Pacific Strike, "Team Signal," as they call themselves, had the challenge of providing both real-life and battlefield-scenario communications at the same time.
During this exercise, the island nation of Surran invaded its neighboring island, Pacifica. I Corps was part of the U.S. force to respond to the attack. Battlefield commanders were able to command and control the battlefield by using a variety of integrated voice and data communications systems. They were able to see electronic tactical images of the battlefield with the recently fielded Phoenix system. They had immediate access to encrypted electronic mail on the Defense Message System. Also, they were able to hold videoteleconferences on a secure tactical network. (Most VTCs are held over commercial high-speed lines.) All this was in addition to the normal secure and non-secure voice and data abilities of 142d Signal Brigade’s mobile-subscriber equipment.
|The V3 section of 2d Platoon, Company A, 29th Signal Battalion, erects a 30-meter mast antenna for the Pacific Strike warfighter exercise at Fort Lewis, Wash.|
Maintaining the scenario’s system support on the battlefield was a full-time job involving all brigade and subordinate staff functions. As units moved and threat conditions changed, Signal units had to deploy to support commanders and their troops. This required constant monitoring of, and reaction to, battlefield conditions by battle officers such as MAJ Ricky Pressnell, day-shift battle major for 142d. At each shift change and throughout the day, 142d’s staff sections would report status to Pressnell, who – as operations officer – would order changes in deployment and status of equipment and personnel.
The 142d intelligence section, consisting of MAJ Theresa Hornung and her Active Component/Reserve Component staff, monitored enemy threat conditions and other potential developments. Logistics officer CPT Brad Burch monitored and managed supplies and equipment. Personnel supervisor SFC Bernie Schug was responsible for ordering replacements and other personnel actions when Signal personnel on the battlefield were affected. Other sections reported as necessary.
As the battle progressed and the fog of war accelerated, flawless coordination was essential as MAJ David Gregory, the night-shift battle major, carried the battle into darkness. Events, actions and contingencies were constantly input into the Phoenix system – as well as other communication pipes – to keep the corps situationally aware. Current and future operations from the Signal perspective were displayed electronically in a real-time format.
To support the real-life mission and the several thousand soldiers actually employed in the exercise, all communication systems had to be in place and easily accessible by the different command forces involved. The systems had to be installed, operational and maintained. Also, help-desk personnel provided troubleshooting and on-the-spot training where needed. The real-world communication exercise required many and increasingly complex coordination planning conferences and exercises. The resulting system was the most complex, but robust, system ever fielded in support of I Corps, providing hundreds of thousands of transactions.
At a senior leader’s training symposium in June 2000, I Corps commander LTG James Hill presented possible battle scenarios. The scenarios were staffed and possible solutions presented. To give the best support, 142d had to know what type of units would be employed, what their communications needs and experience were, and how they would be arrayed.
LTC Ray Letson, assistant G-6 officer for the scenario portion, critiqued, "We had many questions regarding tables of organization and equipment for support companies, the area nodal platoon, small extension node teams, headquarters sections, team labels and tactical-satellite information that were difficult to answer. Many questions couldn’t be answered from field manuals. We also expected some difficulty keeping up with employed/damaged and nodal-management equipment. The interplay among destruction, movement and reconstitution of Signal equipment would be a full-time job."
Knowing that communications would be the vital battlefield element, leaders decided to integrate new equipment with 142d’s MSE equipment to provide the flexible and robust communications system that provided "hot jumps" for key corps staff elements.
The TYC-24 tactical message system was borrowed from the program-management office for DMS at Fort Monmouth, N.J., to see how it would integrate into a battlefield scenario. The system, managed by 142d’s CW2 Fernando Perez, used a strategic satellite as an entry point into the automated digital network, the official-traffic messaging system. The system used a CGS-300I communications-gateway system to bring in the digitized AUTODIN circuit and convert it to text-based electronic mail by using an AN-FCC100U7 multiplexer.
The main purpose was to provide tactical users the ability to send email traffic worldwide through the AUTODIN network quickly and easily. Tactical users insert a standard flashcard known as a Fortezza crypto card into a port on their computer. The card contains an encrypted algorithm specific to the individual user. This allows users to use their standard email program to access the worldwide AUTODIN network. The system also allows for attachments, with no real size limitation.
The single-switch shelter – the smaller, more compact and easier air-transportable replacement of the AN/TTC-39D subscriber switch – was provided by 93rd Signal Brigade at Fort Gordon, Ga., along with 93d personnel. Their performance, coupled with a large extension node from 711th Signal Battalion (ALARNG), was outstanding and key to the highly successful, but complex, battle-simulation center operation.
Other new equipment included the Phoenix system, a computer system with a proprietary commercially developed program that uses a series of Microsoft Powerpoint-type screen layers to display, in real time, a user-specific electronic image of the battlefield coupled with a distributive, on-demand database.
TACSAT links, along with back-up redundant systems, were in place with links to Camp Buckner, Japan, and Wahiawa in Hawaii.
A commercial computer-network monitoring program called What’s Up Gold was used for managing data traffic. Signal managers were able to watch the traffic volume, learn which links were working and who was using the signal bandwidth – down to the individual user. This level of management ensured the bandwidth wasn’t misused, as well as monitoring that bandwidth stayed available for battle traffic.
These systems had to be in place and working for the exercise. Training was necessary on some of the systems. It was often difficult to distinguish between real life and scenario play. For the scenario portion, the battle-simulations center staff would create battle situations to which the battle commander would have to react. Signal elements would have to relocate and position to support battlefield commanders. This was handled by official email traffic, VTCs and big-board displays of Pacifica.
However, real-life situations had to actually be handled; a scenario exercise wasn’t enough. Real-life Signal managers were continually working to keep their equipment running. As the warfighter exercise transitioned to a relatively peaceful conclusion, host-country events required that a joint task force be established to provide continuity of U.S. interests in the area.
Other U.S. military services were also represented with I Corps as the JTF command. Signal soldiers met and worked with Air Force and Navy personnel on radio-frequency management. Communications systems of other services were integrated and configured into a JTF network built and maintained by 142d Signal Brigade.
Other real-life situations developed. Signal soldiers worked with various supported units to make sure their equipment was working and personnel were trained on Signal equipment. In some cases, units didn’t bring enough batteries to sustain their battery-powered equipment over an extended period of time. Signal managers located batteries and kept the equipment running.
COL Brooks Hodges III, 142d Signal Brigade’s G-6, said, "More than one million voice and data transactions were handled during the exercise period, but even with the VTCs, we never used a majority of our bandwidth potential. The results we saw were a tribute to detailed planning, constant practice and integration, and a ‘one team, one fight’ mindset from the multicomponent players."
BG Dallas Fanning, 142d Signal Brigade’s commander, attributed the mission’s success to "the brigade’s highly trained and dedicated Team Signal staff of officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers, both active and National Guard."
(The 142d is the first brigade-sized multicomponent unit consisting of a fully integrated brigade staff in both Alabama and Washington, three ALARNG battalions and one active battalion located at Fort Lewis. See related story.)
Hill expressed the importance of Signal in a personal thank-you letter to Fanning. "If ever there was an exercise that called for good communications, this was it. Once again 142d lived up to its great reputation. When I look back at all the work that went into this exercise and at the selfless dedication of your officers, NCOs and soldiers on their many trips to the Pacific Northwest, I’m assured of the Army’s continued strength."
SSG Carney is 142d Signal Brigade’s public-affairs NCO.
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Army Communicator is part of Regimental Division, a division of Office Chief of Signal.