Tower climbing in 41st Signal Battalion

by CW2 Robert Fields

There would be no armed-forces television, radio or other communications for U.S. soldiers in Korea without sky-climbing Signal soldiers.

The 41st Signal Battalion maintenance-support team�s mission is to provide organizational through general-support maintenance to 41st Signal Battalion�s strategic sites on a 24-hour basis. Equipment supported includes Armed Forces Network television, frequency-modulation and amplitude-modulation broadcast transmitters, digital and analog microwave-radio systems, asynchronous-transfer-mode switches, battery float systems and all tower and antenna systems associated with major systems, including microwave, air-traffic-control radios and other communications systems.

Within MST there�s an antenna section that performs a variety of tower and antenna-system maintenance support in the Republic of Korea. The antenna section maintains all towers and antennas 41st Signal Battalion owns or maintains. In addition to performing preventive-maintenance inspections, the section also relocates antennas as well as makes small installations and de-installations. The antenna section is responsible for maintaining 30 towers at 27 locations from the Demilitarized Zone to Pyongtaek. (The 36th Signal Battalion is responsible for the area from Pyongtaek to Pusan.)

The antenna section consists of two tower-certified Korean-national employees and four soldiers holding military-occupation specialty 31L with additional-skill identifier F2 (soon to be redesignated J2).

To become a certified tower climber and receive the J2 ASI, a soldier must attend the J2 course at Sheppard AFB, Texas (course number J3ABR2E632-007). An in-house qualified instructor, approved commercial vendors or outside organizations can conduct tower-climbing certification training; however, none of these may award the J2 ASI without the Signal Center�s approval.

Soldiers must demonstrate their ability to climb at least 100 feet and carefully hoist to a working level; perfect the function of body harnesses, lanyards, lifelines and fall-arrest systems; use hand lines for lifting required tools and equipment; maintain and clean their equipment; and check for damage and excessive wear. To accomplish their tasks using extreme safety precautions, they must identify hazards and perform their job by using the provided protection.

How to become a sky-climber

Soldiers who wish to attend the Sheppard course and obtain the J2 ASI must meet the following prerequisites:

Possess MOS 31L;

Demonstrate the ability to climb and work at heights above 100 feet without fear;

Be assigned and enroute to a job requiring the ASI; and

Be selected either by Personnel Command or the local commander to attend training.

�Most of the positions requiring ASI J2 are in Korea at 1st Signal Brigade units, at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and at Fort Detrick, Md.,� said Jerry Baker, chief of the Enlisted Division, Office Chief of Signal (the Signal personnel proponent), Fort Gordon, Ga. �If you are a 31L E5 or below being assigned to one of these places, you should seek information from your assignment representative at Department of the Army as to whether you should attend the ASI school.�

In Korea, environmental factors such as severe cold weather, monsoons, high winds and extremely humid days play a major factor in the maintenance support for tower and antenna systems. Unique hazards not normally encountered elsewhere are present during installation or maintenance of communication equipment on towers and poles. The main hazards associated with climbing poles and towers are falls and contact with electric power lines and systems.

People who perform operations of a potentially hazardous nature or functions that may create a hazardous situation on towers and poles will be certified as to their capabilities to perform those operations and functions safely. Added to the environmental challenges, we face the problem of maintaining tower-certified personnel. The battalion receives many 31Ls PCSing into Korea; however, very few of them have the ASI necessary to perform the tower-climbing duties MST needs.

Our unit policy is that when soldiers are climbing towers and installing or performing maintenance on antenna systems, work doesn�t begin until a safety observer is present. The observer should have a current tower-climbing certification and won�t be assigned to any other duties. Observers will be proficient at the task being observed, along with its particular hazards, as the observer briefs potential hazards/dangers to persons entering the work area. The observer must also be proficient in performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency first-aid treatment that involves controlling bleeding, shock, open wounds and burns.

The antenna section performs scheduled PMIs quarterly and annually, and they�re scheduled and maintained using DD Form 314. During a PMI, the tower and antenna system are inspected and all deficiencies are documented. Inspection items include checking for missing or damaged hardware, broken parts of welds, loose bolts and conditions of tower supports for indications of rust, corrosion and cracks. Also, the grounding system, lighting and color banding are checked for function ability and if they�re in compliance with applicable regulations. On AM or guyed towers, the guywires are checked annually for correct tension at each level. Added to scheduled maintenance, the antenna section also performs unscheduled repairs on the tower or antenna system.

Namsan microwave tower inspection Korean nationals inspect the wave guide on the top microwave antenna while two staff sergeants inspect the repeater antenna and the bottom microwave antenna. This is all part of the quarterly preventive-maintenance inspection of the Namsan microwave tower.

The section is often called upon by other units to provide conduct special projects. Recently, to support a digital-microwave upgrade project, the antenna section was asked to relocate a vital antenna system from the tower at Papyongsan to a nearby roof. This antenna system is used for tracking aircraft patrolling the DMZ, and it�s vital to the ROK�s security. As a result of the hard work and dedication of the antenna section�s soldiers and Korean nationals, the project was carefully planned and completed in half the time projected.

Over the last five years, the antenna section has averaged more than 150 climbs a year but hasn�t had any safety-related accidents.

Tower climbing in 41st Signal Battalion is both challenging and rewarding. The soldiers and Korean-national employees work hand and hand to ensure our towers and antenna systems are maintained at a high state of readiness.

CW2 Fields is MST�s officer in charge and is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 41st Signal Battalion, Yongsan, Korea.

Acronym QuickScan
AM � amplitude modulation
ASI � additional-skill identifier
DMZ � Demilitarized Zone
MOS � military-occupation specialty
MST � maintenance-support team
PMI � preventive-maintenance inspection
ROK � Republic of Korea

dividing rule

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