To the editor:
Although I regret to admit I personally don’t have access to your publication, I was able to find enough information on the Internet in a short time to convince me that you might be able to help me.
I’m in a unit that lacks enough Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System radios, but lacks their vehicular installation sets even more. Unfortunately I’ve had a few problems in obtaining these much-needed items. My first problem occurred when I looked for the installation kits’ original records and found that no specific kit was named. So I used the only “vehicular sets and authorized installations” bulletin my unit has (and this also seems to be the only one we can get a hold of) – sadly I found no kit was named for the vehicle I need.
I’m the only commo person in my unit and am inexperienced (only a specialist with three years’ service), as I have nobody above me to learn from. Everything I’ve done was of my own accord, and I fear I may have missed an obvious answer. My unit is a fuel-transport company with only three of about 58 fuel trucks having SINCGARS capability. Obviously this isn’t acceptable, so the commander and I agreed to make as many trucks SINCGARS-ready as we can; thus the shortage of SINCGARS doesn’t complicate the mission by having only selected trucks available to use them in. Obtaining SINCGARS would also solve the problem of having to resort to conventional citizen-band radios for communication during training.
In short, the vehicle is the M915A2 … and I have no installation kits for it. Yet I know it’s possible since three of them are already equipped. Can you provide any assistance in this area?
SPC Lonnie McNerney
737th Transport Company
(Editor’s note: This is what Army Communicator is all about: professional development. I know there are some noncommissioned officers or officers who can answer the question on the installation kit, if not how/when 737th TC can receive SINCGARS. Since the answer can professionally develop other Signaleers in open forum, send your answers to Army Communicator for publication. For anything specific and unique to 737th TC, I’ll forward directly to McNerney. The address to write AC is: CDR, USASC&FG, ATTN: ATZH-POM (Army Communicator), Bldg 29808A Room 707, Fort Gordon, GA 30905.
The next series of letters involves a query sent to AC for forwarding to retired LTC David Fiedler, a frequent contributor to AC, about his article in the Summer 2000 edition on the PRC-117F. Although some things regarding the situation are specific to the Coast Guard officer and his unit, there is a lot of information on that particular radio provided which makes this – as the schoolhouse folks here at Fort Gordon, Ga., say – a “teachable moment.)
I read your article about the PRC-117F at http://www.gordon.army.mil/regtmktg/AC/SUMR00/sofradio.htm. Have you heard anything regarding how reliable these radios are when operated on small boats? We’re using the PRC-117D(C) model on our 25-foot Boston Whalers and have had a terrible time keeping the radios on-line. Our breakages normally involve one or more of the internal cards popping out during operations. Our boats take quite a beating because of the combination of the aggressive tactics we use and the rough weather/heavy seas we regularly encounter in our area of responsibility.
Warn, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve
Communications officer, Port Security Unit 313
I know of no shock or vibration problems with either the 117D or the 117F. While still in the active Army National Guard, I used a 117D during OPSAIL while working with the Coast Guard off the cutter Sturgeon Bay. We had no problems at all, but a cutter is a much different environment than a 25-foot Whaler, as you well know. We also used them in some of the smaller boats, also with no problem, but the environment was not too rough.
Both radios meet Mil-Std-810D, and the ones I’ve had seem to hold up pretty well, so I’m very surprised to hear of this problem. I’m reluctant to recommend a fix, but I’ve seen some Army guys add a rubber strip between the circuit cards and whatever holds them in place to put more pressure on the card. The radio is usually built like that, but over time the original rubber wears out and the card gets loose. You could also box the radio in some foam packing, which may be better, since going into the radio by yourself is probably not a real great idea.
I’m sending a copy of your email to Harris [Corporation]. I’m sure they’ll try to help you out with some better ideas. Harris is usually very good about helping solve problems like this since they treat their customers pretty well, and I’m sure they’ll have some better ideas.
There are shock mounts for the radio also, but I assume from your email that you’re using them as a manpack. The mounts work pretty well if you have power available in the boat. Mounts also save batteries, which cost plenty, and always assure you have full power for transmit.
I think the Harris guys will contact you. If not, give me a call at (732) 532-3760 and I’ll get you in touch with the right people at Harris.
Fort Monmouth, N.J.
I was forwarded an email regarding the AN/PRC-117D(C) radios, and I understand you’ve been experiencing some difficulty.
The radio chassis has a top cover that fits very securely to the top of the chassis. The top cover also has some strategically placed foam rubber pieces that firmly seat the cards and make it such that they cannot inadvertently unseat during mechanical shock. The top cover is held in place by the outside cover, which fits pretty snugly over the chassis. The overall package has been tested under many shock and vibration scenarios, although I realize the environment of the Boston Whalers is unusual and severe.
One possibility is that the chassis top cover has been left off when the radio is placed into the outside cover. This is theoretically possible, the radio would function, and the possibility would exist for the cards to have enough “travel” for them to become unseated. Unseating the cards is virtually impossible with the chassis top cover in place. Another possibility is that the foam rubber on the inside surface of the top cover has been removed while in maintenance cycle.
In any event, if you would like for us to inspect the radios and can have your maintenance shop forward any of them to us, we would be glad to help you with this problem.
Please feel free to contact me at (716) 242-3180 or Cherie Cremaldi at (716) 242-4201 at your earliest convenience. Cherie is a technical-support engineer and has extensive experience with repairs and upgrades to the 117D and 117F series radios.
Former project engineer for the AN/PRC-117D(C) family
Manager, field engineering and product service
Yes, we do operate our boats in an extremely demanding manner. Because of the combination of the Boston Whaler’s hull design and our aggressive tactics, the 117s experience vibrations/forces that are at least equivalent to someone rapidly and vigorously pounding the bottom of the radio chassis with a large rubber mallet. The radios are mounted onto a shock-absorbing plate, but I don’t believe the shock dampeners are responsive enough to adequately or properly cushion the radio cards during boat operations.
Four of our 117s are currently at the Harris Rochester repair facility awaiting Coast Guard funding for repair. I’d appreciate it if you would have them inspected while they are there.
LT Brian Warn
Great; I’m sure the Harris guys will find the problem. In the meantime, try lining whatever the radio is mounted on with the foam packing used in shipping. The black stuff usually works the best. The closed cell foam from an Army standard-issue sleeping mat also works well. Just slice it as thin as you need and insert between the radio and whatever it is resting on. This usually cushions the shock pretty well.
If the shock mount is in a small space near something solid like ours usually are, pack the space between the foam to cushion the travel and sudden stop. It’s like putting a pillow between the hammer and the radio. It’s crude but it works.
Let me know how it all works out.
by LTC Thomas Gilbert
Today our Army is focused on the new war against terrorism initially being waged in Afghanistan. It’s fitting that in the renewed climate of patriotism, an oversight from the past was recently corrected. On Dec. 8, 2001, the only Signal soldier to die in Operation Just Cause – the invasion and liberation of Panama in 1989-90 – was finally recognized and awarded the Purple Heart medal. His family received his posthumous Purple Heart from the commanding general of 75th Division in Houston, Texas.
SPC Anthony Bryson Ward gave his life in the service of his country while assigned to 5th Battalion, 87th Infantry, 193d Infantry Brigade, based at Fort Clayton, Panama. I had the privilege of serving as communications officer for 5-87th Infantry with Ward before and during Operation Just Cause. Ward served under me as a radio-communications specialist and was dual-hatted as assistant section chief for the frequency-modulation radio section and as team chief of a retransmission section. Before coming to our unit, he attended communications training at Fort Gordon, Ga., and held various assignments until he was assigned to the Republic of Panama.
When he arrived in Panama, he was assigned to our barracks on Fort Clayton. He quickly adjusted to military life in Panama and learned to love the country and its wonderful people. He seemed to always demonstrate a zest for living and yearned to experience new adventures. Unfortunately at that time, the United States was preparing for war in Panama. The Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, was openly hostile to the United States and made increasingly aggressive actions against the Americans stationed in the former Canal Zone. His control of the Panamanian government and the Panamanian Defense Force – or, as we called them, the PDF – was absolute. Despite the tension and strife at that time, Ward found time to expand his horizons and enjoy life.
I often found Ward staring out our barracks windows looking toward the Panama Canal. Fort Clayton was situated directly across from Miraflores Lock; the big ships cruised a stone’s throw away from our barracks. He enjoyed the sight and dreamed of the faraway lands the ships were visiting.
Ward also had an uncanny ability to make friends. Once you met him, his warm smile and friendly demeanor made it seem you’d known him for a long time. Our communications crew became best friends while serving under difficult, hazardous and hostile circumstances. Recently a television miniseries called A Band of Brothers attempted to capture the bond that forms among soldiers under such conditions. As in the movie, our team formed cohesion found only under a wartime environment of hardship, stress and stolid determination to accomplish the mission. These young men represented a cross section of America and truly became a band of brothers.
Ward was athletically inclined, very competitive and a superb runner. I remember he was especially good at long-distance running. He would always join the fast group during physical training and would push us to run faster. One day we were conducting a five-mile run. About a half-mile from the end of the run, we were released to sprint the rest of the way back to the barracks. You see, being among the first runners back was very important, as they are the ones who got the hot water in the showers.
Ward and I started out together, but I quickly became winded. After all, I was an “old man” at 33 years of age. As I started to slow down, Ward called out “tactful” words of encouragement such as “Come on, Grandpa!”, “Geezer!” and other playful taunts that are inappropriate to repeat in this forum. Needless to say, I was motivated to increase speed, but Ward easily increased the distance between us and I was unable to grab him to “show my appreciation.” I don’t think Ward ever had a cold shower after PT.
During Operation Just Cause in December 1989, our infantry battalion was tasked to seize several key installations in the Panama Canal area. Ward’s job was to provide critical command-and-control service for the deployed companies. At times he manned the primary retransmission site on top of Ancon Hill to provide FM communications among the deployed infantry units, 5th Battalion operations and 193d Infantry Brigade headquarters. We called the site the “Bull’s Eye” because it was exposed from all sides and was a prominent American position within range of most PDF weapons. It was a simple matter for the enemy to simply aim at the top of the mountain.
On several occasions his duty placed him in direct lines of fire from the PDF. The heaviest fighting took place as the PDF defended the perimeter around the Commandancia (the main PDF headquarters building in Panama City) and the main police station. Ward served alongside infantry soldiers who were later to be awarded the Combat Infantry Badge – an award he, as a Signal soldier, was ineligible to wear. To tell you Ward was unafraid would be incorrect. However, while most troops had many fears, I am aware that he only had one. His fear was that he would somehow let down his buddies, his team, his unit, his Army. As events transpired, he served as a model soldier and performed his duty in an exemplary manner in service to his nation. He never once let us down.
As the fighting ebbed in the cities and our battalion was committed further into the rural areas, many of our meager support vehicles were committed to these distant operations. As a result, our communications sites within the city were without supply vehicles, and our sites required a large amount of fuel for the electrical generators. Fuel for these and food for the troops were my main supply concerns. Crew chiefs at each site – curiously except Ward’s – continuously called me for more supplies, fuel and food. I knew they needed replenishment, but I could only serve the bare minimum.
I was also curious why Ward didn’t badger me like the rest of them. My curiosity was cured when I saw him riding in a former PDF pickup truck flying an American flag and with black spray paint over the PDF insignia on the door. As I should have expected, the commandeered truck was pulling out of the McDonald’s parking lot, and between Ward and the driver were several bags of food. In the pickup’s bed were several full gas cans with the initials “FFDD” emblazoned on the sides. (FFDD is the Spanish acronym for what we called the PDF.) Ward once told me, “If you don’t have luck, then you haven’t looked for it.” He was exceptionally resourceful.
After liberation of the populated areas surrounding the Panama Canal, Ward served on missions deep in the Panamanian highlands. His job was to provide a secure and reliable command link from the battalion’s deployed elements to the sustaining base at Fort Clayton. On one such mission, we were sent to the Hato Chame area deep in the mountains of northwest Panama, more than 250 miles from the canal. We were ordered to search for any remaining PDF forces that had pulled back into the hills and reportedly were planning a guerrilla war. As a light infantry battalion, we had limited support capabilities for such a mission.
Here again the supply situation became difficult. After a few days, it became apparent we were short of rations and other supplies. Ward, always the resourceful one, contacted local inhabitants and arranged for the purchase and delivery of home-cooked hot food for his crew. When the mission was over, most soldiers – who had been subsisting off cold meals-ready-to-eat food packets – had lost weight, while the commo crew, thanks to Ward, had actually put on a few pounds.
While out in the highlands, Ward told me that when the fighting was over, he was going to continue his education and get a college degree. I was proud of his decision and was excited that he would tackle new challenges on the academic front.
Once most hostilities ended, the “first” President Bush declared Operation Just Cause a resounding success. Personnel-movement limitations were eased. Like most of us, Ward was happy to have more freedom and relegate the fighting to history books. However, much shooting was still taking place, and many disagreed the fighting was over.
Regardless, during that first weekend of relaxed PMLs, Ward went to an American restaurant in Panama City. As he was eating, a terrorist threw a hand grenade through the front doors. The grenade bounced down the stairs and rolled under his table, where it detonated, causing him severe injuries. He was immediately transported to Gorgas Army Medical Center in Panama City. When I was notified he was severely injured and in dire need of blood, I rushed to the hospital. After I checked on his condition, I hurried down the stairs to the blood-donation area. There, lined up in the dim hallway, was Ward’s own band of brothers. They were there to give their life’s blood so that one of their own would have a chance.
We comforted each other but were helpless to do more. Ward had been mortally wounded.
Tocumen Airport had just reopened, and his parents arrived in Panama the day he died. It’s rare for a fighting unit to have the family present at such a tragic time. We felt helpless to console them, but we knew we could rely on Army traditions to help us through those tough times. When it came time for his parents to take Ward home, his crew formed the honor guard and carried his flag-draped casket onto the cavernous C-5 Galaxy at Howard Air Force Base. After we lowered his casket in place on the aircraft, we knelt beside his casket and bid Ward a final farewell. He was returned home to Texas and is buried in Houston.
On the 10th anniversary of Ward’s death, I contacted his parents to tell them Ward wasn’t forgotten and to wish them my best. I learned they hadn’t received his Purple Heart. As I discovered, and as sometimes happens in large organizations, his posthumous Purple Heart award packet was misplaced. Once the oversight was brought to the Department of the Army’s attention, the wheels of bureaucracy started grinding and the award was forthcoming. We apologized to the family for the delay in recognizing Ward’s sacrifice to his nation.
Ward was a Signal soldier of the first degree. His only concerns were for his communications mission and for his fellow soldiers. For such a tragically short life, he left an enduring legacy. The legacy I am familiar with is one of honor to his nation, selfless service to his unit, dedication to his teammates and eternal membership in the Army band of brothers.
LTC Gilbert is the active-duty liaison to the Reserve Command and General Staff College cell in Nashville, Tenn. He enlisted in the Army in 1975, serving as a light-weapons infantryman. After he completed his enlistment, he obtained a bachelor’s degree using his GI Bill benefits and returned to the Army in 1982 as a Signal officer. He said he has served in “all the usual Signal jobs” (platoon leader, company commander, S-3, battalion executive officer, etc.) and is retiring May 31. “Thanks to the Army, I am leaving with two master’s degrees (MPA and MBA) and a PhD in economics,” he said.
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