by Chris Walz
FORT MEADE, Md. � This year�s annual Grecian Firebolt exercise tested a worldwide communications network that could be used for homeland security.
�We�re basically AT&T for the Army, with a lot of encryption,� said node switcher PVT Leland Hughes, a member of 280th Signal Battalion from Wilmington, Del. �We want to make sure this system can talk to that system hundreds of miles away.�
The Federal Emergency Management Agency joined the exercise as part of the homeland-security scenario, as did U.S. Joint Forces Command.
FEMA directors said they like the Army�s signal reliability and the versatility of using several communication paths. They also like any path increasing their speed in contacting the Defense Department.
�We want to stay in a readiness posture, especially after 9-11,� said Ozzie Baldwin, telecommunications manager at the Texas Mobile Emergency Response Support office, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. �Now we know we have several ways of communicating. It�s reassuring to know we can contact DoD should a crisis or emergency situation come up.�
Joint Forces Command was involved in the exercise to observe the interoperability between Army and Air Force communications assets. The command is evaluating the infrastructure for a homeland-security defense-communications template.
�Everybody is pushing for joint efforts and joint communications,� said MAJ Anthony Britton from Joint Forces Command. �There�s not much in the military anymore that is just Army-specific or Air Force-specific.�
�Single-service missions are a thing of the past,� agreed the commander of 311th Theater Signal Command, MG George Bowman. �We�re looking wider and broader and helping one another keep America�s freedoms.�
The exercise costs about $1.2 million and is budgeted annually by Reserve Component units participating in it.
�In the past, the Army couldn�t communicate with the Air Force or the Navy, and vice versa,� said Bowman. �We�re not completely there yet. That�s why we have these exercises: to see what we need to do to make it all work.�
Another purpose of the exercise is to give RC Signal troops valuable time with the equipment.
�We need to know what to do in a wartime situation,� said satellite operator Senior Airman Paul Rolla. �Satellite time is limited, so we need to take advantage of the time we have with the equipment.�
Troops at Fort Meade experienced minor technical difficulties during the June exercise, most stemming from the sweltering heat and equipment age, Hughes said.
�We had some minor problems, but that�s the purpose of these training exercises. We need to learn how to fix these problems,� Hughes said. �I�ve learned more in this exercise than I have in the past five years.�
Walz is a staff writer for The Pentagram, the newspaper for the Fort Myer, Va., community.
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Army Communicator is part of Regimental Division, a division of Office Chief of Signal.