ABOARD USS IWO JIMA -- As the Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) continue operations in Northern Iraq, secure communication serves as a corner stone for successful command and control and mission success on the battlefield.
The safety of Marines and the integrity of a mission can be compromised by a simple phone call, e-mail or radio transmission containing sensitive information sent out through an unsecure circuit.
Ensuring vital information and data is transmitted in a way that only its intended recipients can receive it, rests in the capable hands of the Communications Section of the 26th MEU (SOC).
Communications Security (COMSEC) is the protection resulting from all measures designed to deny unauthorized persons access to information. "We use crypto security and encryption equipment to cover all tactical communication," explained Master Sgt. Russell Valentine, the communications chief for the MEU. "Imagine a number generator that creates a code, this code scrambles your signal. If you do not have my code to decode the signal, then you will not be able to read or understand the message", he said.
Staff Sgts. Darrell Wallace, the MEU information security technician, and Frederick Garcia, the electronic key management systems manager (EKMS), encode and issue out the equipment that can read and transmit encrypted information to every unit in the MEU. They supply this equipment to the infantry Marines going to the field, the helicopter crews flying missions and to the rear units who need to know what support and supplies are needed on the battlefield.
Both Marines, currently working aboard the USS Iwo Jima, are new to working with crypto gear and have performed very well during this operation, said Capt. Stephanie Arndt, the assistant communications officer. "We have been challenging them, and they have been turning out some good results," she added.
Arndt explained that a major accomplishment of the EKMS Marines was supplying the Marines in Iraq new data or "fills" that needed to be loaded on the communications equipment there to enable the gear to continue transmitting and receiving on a secure network.
Used in an electronic format these fills can be passed to the units directly. With the MEU forces ashore however, the Marines here had to use some ingenuity to convert the data to a digital format that was then passed over a secure network.
Prior to Marines leaving the ships of the Navy's Amphibious Squadron Six for Operation Iraqi Freedom, secure radios and phones with crypto capability were issued out to all elements of the 26th MEU (SOC) going ashore. Arndt said that the communications section tries to predict what will be needed in the field and supply units with the proper assets before they ask.
Wallace and Garcia prepared all the equipment and documented when and to whom each piece of gear issued was issued.
This meticulous accountability of this gear is vital because if any gear were to become missing, it could fall into enemy hands giving them access to transmissions from U.S. forces.
With these two dedicated Marines in charge of this equipment, Marines on the ground and on ship can rest assured that the data they are transmitting is reaching its destination safe and secure.
To learn more about the 26th MEU (SOC), without needing a crypto reading machine, visit www.26meu.usmc.mil.