31st MEU puts communications skills and equipment to the test

8 Sep 2008 | Lance Corporal Jason Spinella

As the only permanently forward deployed Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in the Marine Corps, the 31st MEU must be able to effectively “shoot, move and communicate” in execution of complex missions.  While certain aspects of shooting and moving may vary, one constant remains; communications must always work efficiently in order to achieve mission accomplishment.

Over 50 Marines from the 31st MEU’s S-6, Communications Platoon, conducted a Communication Exercise (COMMEX) Aug. 11-21, on Camp Hansen in order to test a variety of communication equipment and hone their skills in preparation for the 31st MEU’s fall patrol.

“The purpose of this exercise was to test and validate command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) capabilities in support of the MEU commander and staff,” said Maj. Daryl Hurst, communications officer, 31st MEU. “The exercise was a great opportunity for the Marines to get hands-on experience and learn about the equipment.”

The exercise, which took place over an 11-day period, included equipment setup and breakdown phases.  Two large tents, one for data programming and the other for the Command Element’s Combat Operations Center (COC), were used to test their communications equipment and display the S-6’s complete capabilities of providing the 31st MEU and its subordinate elements with a multitude of network communication services.

Those services included both classified and unclassified internet, email, video teleconferencing (VTC) and Defense Switched Network (DSN) telephone connectivity along with standard single channel radio communications. This gave the Marines a chance to identify and fix any flaws or problems encountered before, during and after the exercise.

“It was a very efficient way for all the new Marines in the communications detachment to learn and understand just how much work it takes to set up an operation like this,” said Lance Cpl. Russell Vandeloecht, an electronic equipment repair specialist with the 31st MEU. “It really shows the Marines what will be expected of them during a field operation.”

One valuable commodity to this year’s exercise was the successful implementation of a VTC system.  This gives the MEU commander a one-on-one interface with other commanders while forward deployed.  For those participating in the COMMEX for the first time, bearing witness to the fact that Marines can communicate anywhere in the world at any time, proved convincing.

“There really is no better way to test the equipment you will use in the field than when you actually use it in the field,” said Cpl. Nathan Lewis, the 31st MEU Legal Chief. “If you find any problems with your phone or computer during this exercise, the communications Marines can fix it and you won’t have a problem during future operations.”

As the 31st MEU prepares for their annual fall patrol, ensuring the unit is mission capable is key.  This month, the 31st MEU’s S-6 will continue to implement their C4I capabilities during the 31st MEU’s semi-annual MEU Exercise, a mission-oriented training evolution focusing on the planning, execution and evaluation of the MEU’s ability to accomplish it core tasks.

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31st Marine Expeditionary Unit