CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
Armed with a knife and a lighter, a Marine strips the coating from a wire, splits the end, and heats it before attaching it to the radio of a Humvee. This step is but one of thousands in setting up the communications hub of an expeditionary command.
Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s command element built a field-based command and control center for satellite and radio operations here, Jan. 13 - 17, as part of their pre-deployment communication exercise. The CommEx setup established a real-time link with the 78th Signal Battalion, 516th Signal Brigade, 311th Signal Command on Fort Buckner, Okinawa, in order to test and demonstrate capabilities. But none of that would have happened without the complicated and laborious setup by the communication Marines.
The first step was installing three satellites: the Phoenix, Swan V1 and Swan V2. The Phoenix, the primary satellite being used for the exercise, stands nearly six feet tall and is attached to the back of a Humvee to provide a mobile capability.
“The satellite goes up first or the exercise wouldn’t go,” said Lance Cpl. Kemuel A. Santiago, a ground mobile force satellite communication operator, 31st MEU, and a native of Chicopee, Mass. “Having the satellite up is like having a paved road, and everything being transmitted is like traffic driving on it.”
After the satellites were in place, the Marines built the data system, which consists of more than 30 servers and four laptop computers, connected by a serial cable to the satellites. The system allows the command center to send and receive transmissions through their computer servers by providing web access and e-mail capabilities.
Data systems built in the field are operated differently when compared to the systems inside the Marines’ headquarters less than 1,000 meters from their position. Inside the headquarters building, servers are run by a group of expert civilian contractors. In the field, the Marines have complete control.
“We run the servers ourselves, which requires more equipment and attention,” said Cpl. Carl Nelson, a data system specialist for the 31st MEU, and a native of Conshohocken, Penn. “This field training is helpful since it is practice for our upcoming deployment.”
Lastly, Marines placed 500 feet of wire to link telephone switches to five phones for local and international calls.
As part of a continually deployed force, the communication Marines of the 31st MEU need to remain flexible to maintain their capability to operate in a variety of locations throughout the Pacific. Communications play as a vital role in all military operations.
“With the 31st MEU, we’re always moving,” said Sgt. Keith Hutson, a field wireman with the 31st MEU, and a native of Manassas, Va. “The way we train, we can go anywhere at a moment’s notice and get communication going. We’re small, flexible and we can provide reliable services.”
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.