An insider view of Signal transformation.
In addition to outlining the timeline and training of the Soldiers and noncommissioned officers to meet the standards and professional knowledge in preparation for a 15 month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, this article provides a review of lessons learned in the crucible of daily operational challenges in theater.
On 14 July 2005, I assumed the duties as the first sergeant of B Company, 125th Signal Battalion for a tour that lasted four years until 01 June 2009. During this four-year period, I worked with and supported three commanders.
Shortly after taking responsibility, the Signal Company departed to Fort Gordon, Ga., to attend Cohesion and Operational Training. The four-month long COHORT training was the foundation for the company's transformation.
B Company, 125th Signal Battalion had deactivated and become known as 556 Signal Company. The new company was now a part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (Stryker), 25th Infantry Division. The company was composed of personnel from B Company who had volunteered to become members of the Stryker Brigade. Upon activation 556 Signal Company became the Wild Boars.
While at Fort Gordon the company trained on the Joint Network Node, a hands-on experience that included computer based training and 3D computer simulations. Other training included the Battalion Command Post Communication package; Ku Band satellite; and Beyond Line of Sight. All of the training was hands-on and Internet protocol based, which is the new generation of voice and data communication.
This was the Army's transformation into a quicker and a more reliable communication package. All aspects of the training were important. It enabled the company leadership to begin the team building process with all members of the company. Additionally, Fort Gordon offered the latest IP-based training.
The Signal company would provide all voice, data and video support to the brigade commander's C2. The Signal company would establish the Wide Area Network which allowed the brigade commander and staff to control and monitor the battlefield. Within the Operational Environment the commander would be able to see all portions of the battlefield that fell under the commander's direct responsibility.
After Fort Gordon, we returned to Schofield Barracks, where the Signal company became part of the 225th Brigade Support Battalion. The brigade managed our mission set. We officially had an Administrative Control relationship to the 225th Brigade Support Battalion. This was a unique organizational structure. We were a brigade asset that installed, operated and maintained the brigade's tactical signal infrastructure. Due to the lack of direct guidance from the higher headquarters to the BSB, the lines of responsibility were often blurred as to what role the BSB played in management of the Signal company.
Our mission set was split into six phases over my tenure as the first sergeant: transformation from B/125 Signal Battalion to 556 Signal Company; transformation from a light infantry to a Stryker brigade combat team; COHORT training; brigade warfighter exercise; our preparation for OIF 07-09; deployment to OIF 0709; and redeployment and reset.
The common theme throughout was modularity and the ability to provide C2 combat assets in a dynamic environment. The transformation from a battalion signal company to a brigade Signal company, along with all associated equipment (JNTC-S fielding), challenged us with a heavier responsibility as the sole proprietors of the brigade's entire signal assets. COHORT training prepared our Soldiers and leaders to install, operate and maintain the latest version of the Army's JNTC-S fielding. In preparation for OIF 07-09 we went through two distinct phases of preparation as a result of different commanders with divergent emphasis. The first commander focused on the basics, down to the level of Soldiers' common tasks. All personnel spent countless hours in the field preparing for combat. We trained on close quarter marksmanship, close quarter battle and basic combat skills and many other areas.
The succeeding commander emphasized the company's training on technical expertise on all assigned signal equipment, while transitioning through training phases at Pohakuloa Training Area and the National Training Center.
Both commanders, while distinctively different in leadership style and approach, focused on the development of the individual Soldier as well as the company's combat skills. All actions were geared toward preparing the Signal Company for a successful deployment in support of OIF.
Prior to NTC, the brigade held a five-month digital exercise. The exercise began with 556 Signal sustaining a 2Mb satellite link with the Wahiawa Standardized Tactical Entry Point site. This complex exercise allowed us to experience the whole spectrum of COMSEC changeovers and sustain 24-hour communications support to the brigade tactical operations center. During the last month, 556 Signal Company members provided Internet services and phone services to the brigade staff and command group, according to the brigade directive that the entire brigade staff would conduct all administrative and training operations out of the brigade TOC. In the final 10 days we conducted a warfighter DIGEX with all of the brigade and battalion digital systems. We interfaced with 1st Armored Division in Germany as our higher headquarters. A contracted agency injected our Army Battle Command Systems with digital feeds simulating enemy activity. The entire exercise confirmed the interoperability of all our digital systems, our ability to run a brigade domain and e-mail server, while sustaining long-term communications support.
On 4 December 2007, 556 Signal Company deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Wild Boars were unique for two reasons. Not only were they the first Signal company in the Army to deploy with organic Stryker's (five of them), they also were the first Signal company to field and deploy the Harris RF-7800w Line of Sight radio system. Through 556 personnel efforts, high bandwidth communication support was provided to the brigade down to the company level at 15 combat outposts, across a 1,300 square mile operational environment.
Their tactical network, managed by the Network Operations Center section, equaled closely the size of the network managed by the G6 of Multi-National Division Baghdad. NETOPS was an integral part of Headquarters and was responsible for the monitoring and troubleshooting of the entire 2nd Brigade network architecture and was able to assist all battalions in maintaining their network portion as well. NETOPS tracked all links associated to the 2nd Brigade and report any issues to 4ID in its daily reports. The communications security custodians were well trained Soldiers and NCOs that ensured that all crypto material was available to the battalions at all times. The headquarters platoon provided the life support systems for the Company ensuring all supplies were readily available at all times. This included Class I, arms room and morale, welfare and recreation events within the company. Through their efforts, Soldiers of 556 Signal Company were able to receive much needed supplies, Army Direct Order and mail services. Headquarters platoon was also responsible for the maintenance and repair of all controlled cryptographic items, and electronic equipment used in the company as well as equipment from other signal assets. They also provided all administrative support.
The Soldiers of 556 Signal Company adapted to every situation and obstacle that came their way. They fielded a HARRIS RF-7800W LOS radio with no prior training and deployed it to 15 combat outposts across a 1,300 square mile OE. They quickly developed training classes to gain competency on all equipment and formed teams. The NETOPS cell, where all the planning took place, was able to design the network architecture and create portable connectivity packages that disseminated Secret Internet Protocol Router Network and Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network down to the company level.
During OIF 07-09, 556 Signal Company ran a diverse and a complicated set of missions. We received the HARRIS RF-7800W LOS radios late in the cycle. This forced us to figure out how to implement its functionality down to the company level in theater rather in a training environment. We set up retransmission sites across the brigade's OE and eventually built a 150' platform on a 500' tower in order to provide better FM and Enhanced Position Location Reporting System coverage to the brigade. Rather than sitting on a hilltop with radios, Soldiers on the RETRANS team found themselves as an integral part of the brigade commander's personal security detachment. During the Signal company's operations out of Camp Taji, 2nd Platoon augmented the brigade commander's personal security detachment. Over a period of 15 months, they provided security for the commander and signal support for the Mounted Battle Command on the Move and FM communication systems. They covered the entire battle space, mounting over 50,000 miles on various routes. On several occasions when their convoys were hit by IEDs and small arms fire, the Soldiers and NCOs distinguished themselves from their peers by their professionalism under fire. Four Soldiers and NCOs received the Combat Action Badge for their efforts while engaged in direct contact with the enemy.
Overall, the company was successful in adapting to the operational needs of the brigade and providing reliable voice and data communications down to the maneuver company level--the first time a Signal company has accomplished this task. Finally, redeployment and reset operations brought the company, its personnel and its equipment back to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii without any loss of life or equipment. Reset operations focused on family/ personal time and the reset of all equipment to a Fully Mission Capable state.
Tactically, our NCOs quickly gained technical competence on Commercial off the Shelf equipment and on the new JNN. Once the tactical network stabilized the primary means of communication flowed over COTS equipment.
Operationally, Soldiers and NCOs took the lead in implementing this communications support down to the company level, while, doctrinally, signal companies are supposed to provide connectivity to the battalion level. This change in itself represented an operational shift to maneuver units, being more decentralized and independent, and a corresponding change in the Signal company's concept of support.
Strategically, there has been impact within our OE by providing more intelligence to circulate from the companies to the Battalion and Brigade and vice versa. Company Commanders were sending email, making VOIP calls, sending BATS/ HIDES data, watching streaming UAV feeds and JLENS feeds. Such data intensive applications and information would not have been able to flow across the OE without the installation of the COTS HARRIS RF-7800W radio systems. Ultimately, commanders at all levels had more intelligence at their disposal, more C2 over subordinate units, and a more robust Common Operating Picture. The capability of SIPRNET and NIPRNET down to the Company level did fundamentally change how the Brigade Combat Teams conducted operations. The ability to provide such large bandwidth provided commanders down to the company level with all the mentioned benefits, resulting in having strategic level affects within the OE.
Several Soldiers and NCOs of the 556 Signal Company were experts on certain pieces of equipment, while others lacked the necessary knowledge and expertise to troubleshoot a situation in their absence. This issue led to having challenges in having the right person on the job, which became a problem when doing 24 hour operations for 15 months. Inoperability of equipment was typically not an issue. The robustness of the network, the redundancy, caused routing loops and other networking issues that prevented us from reaching a stable state for months. While in theater, we developed a mission essential task list based on current operations. From this METL we were able to develop a set of classes over the course of several months of refinement. These classes were condensed into PowerPoint slides, which in conjunction with hands-on training were used by Soldiers and NCOs of different MOS's to teach in a round robin fashion. We trained and developed our junior Soldiers and NCOs and helped them gain competency on different systems. Based on the success of this training system and the positive feedback from the Soldiers and NCOs, we developed our continuity books for the succeeding company, the 656 Signal Company.
The lack of cross-training of the different MOS's hurt us during shift work and prevented some Soldiers and NCOs from developing certain core competencies, such as the ASIP radio operation or RETRANS missions. The NCOs filled the traditional role of training, mentoring, developing and managing the people and resources assigned to them. Their most common trait was enthusiasm. They were motivated learners and showed a positive attitude with the commitment to improving and exceeding.
We accomplished our mission of providing reliable communications, voice and data, down to the Battalion level using organic Joint Network Transport Capability-Spiral equipment. We surpassed expectations and provided those same capabilities to the company level with greater bandwidth.
First platoon became part of the brigade's tactical reserve, responsible for detaining enemy combatants designated as high value targets and providing security to the Brigade's embedded provincial reconstruction teams.
Throughout the deployment they detained over 50 high value targets and provided security to ePRTs on countless occasions. Their efforts helped stabilize the operational environment by removing harmful elements and enabling ePRTs to do their job.
Completing successful Soldier tasks at all levels must consist of four basic components: a specialized body of knowledge, consistent excellent performance, mentorship/ guidance and a certain ethical code (Army Values). As professionals we need to be willing to develop ourselves and each other on a continued basis. Soldiers and NCOs need to take more initiative in training, especially with civilian field support representatives. Reading and understanding Field Manuals and any other publication for specialized equipment in use, is ultimately the necessary stepping stone to mastering the challenge in becoming this highly professional asset. Reading technical manuals is a key component of understanding the functionality of the equipment. With the transition of the signal systems to an IP-based architecture, computer networking should be a core competency that needs to receive much attention during the early phases of training. The AIT phrase of, "You'll learn this at your unit," should never be uttered again. The advancement of personnel in leadership positions is occurring at a rapid pace, often too rapid for them to develop the leadership skills required to lead and manage their subordinates successfully. Many are not adapting to the rapid change seen in communications equipment due to a deficiency of knowledge or a loss of motivation. Platoon sergeants should be more assertive providing junior officers with the guidance that they need to be successful. This can result in a bad impression of the NCO corps. Both platoon leaders and platoon sergeants especially, need to know what "right looks like" as they quickly advance into higher levels of responsibility. They must address this requirement to think, train and respond to the challenges.
The 556 Signal Company received the Meritorious Unit Commendation for its outstanding support during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The unit excelled in a challenging and complex environment while supporting combat operations in Multi-National Division-Baghdad's Operation Environment.
MSG John E. Reinburg IV earned an Associate and a Bachelors degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is currently pursuing a Masters degree from the University of Texas at El Paso. In addition to a number of personal awards, his unit awards include the Joint Meritorious Unit Award (4 OLC); Army Meritorious Unit Commendation (1 OLC) and the Army Superior Unit Award. His foreign awards include the Australian, Israeli and German Parachute Badges. He is also the recipient of the Bronze Order of Mercury given by the Signal Corps Regimental Association for his outstanding contributions to the Signal Corps. He is married and has two children.
ABCS--Army Battle Command Systems
ADO--Army Direct Order
AIT--Advanced Individual Training
ASIP--Advanced SINCGARS Improvement Program
BATS/ HIDES feeds--Biometric Automated Toolset
(BAT) and Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE)
BSB--Brigade Support Battalion
C2--Command and Control
CCI--Controlled Cryptographic Items
COHORT--Cohesion and Operational Training
COP--Common Operating Picture
COTS--Commercial off the Shelf
CQB--Close Quarter Battle
CQM--Close Quarter Marksmanship
EPLRS--Enhanced Position Location Reporting System
ePRT--embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams
FMC--Fully Mission Capable
FSR--Field Support Representative
IED--Improvised Explosive Device
JLENS--Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense
Elevated Netted Sensor
JNN--Joint Network Node
JNTC-S Joint Network Transport Capability-Spiral
Ku--Frequency band directly below the K-band
LOS--Line of Sight
MBCOTM--Mounted Battle Command on the Move
METL--Mission Essential Task List
MWR--Morale, Welfare, and Recreation
MOS--Military Occupational Skill
NETOPS--Network Operations Center
NIPRNET--Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network
NTC--National Training Center
OIF--Operation Iraqi Freedom
PTA--Pohakuloa Training Area
PSD--Personal Security Detachment
SIPRNET--Secret Internet Protocol Router Network
STEP--Standardized Tactical Entry Point
TOC--Tactical Operations Center
UAV--Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
VoIP--Voice over Internet Protocol
APM VIS--Assistant Project Manager, Vehicular Intercom Systems
DCATS--Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems
GAO--U.S. Government Accountability Office
IED--Improvised explosive device
IDIQ--indefinite delivery indefinite quantity
LLC--Limited Liability Corporation
MRAP--Mine Resistant Ambush Protected
NCRAR--National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research
PEO EIS--Program Executive Office, Enterprise Information Systems
VoIP--Voice over Internet Protocol
VIS-X--Vehicular Intercom Systems-Extended
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|Author:||Reinburg, John E., IV|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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