MARINE CORPS AUXILLARY LANDING FIELD, Bogue, N.C. -- The order to move out came about two hours after sundown.
The handful of Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit had been huddled in a tent keeping a close watch on their communications gear while warding off the late-winter chill with stories of exploits in sunny Mediterranean ports.
In a flash, the tent and radios disappeared into the back of a HUMVEE that was soon bouncing through the darkness along a tree-lined dirt road.
Reaching a clearing, the Marines jumped out and quickly began to lay the ground-work for a
12-foot antenna. In minutes they hoisted the structure into the night sky and established
radio and satellite communications with their command post.
This operation was part of a five-day field training exercise March 6-10 designed to develop the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) needed by the MEU communications section (S-6)
to integrate the varied communications systems they will employ during the unit’s coming
training cycle and deployment.
The S-6 is currently conducting training and preparations at an urgent level because their window for getting ready to deploy is smaller than other sections, said Capt. Johnnie D. Jones, 26th MEU assistant communications officer.
Jones said that his Marines must be ready to provide full communications to the entire the MEU by the time the unit stands-up in June.
"We provide the means for the commanding officer to control his forces and execute missions," Jones said, noting there is no difference in complexity between providing communications for training or real-world operations.
The exercise, had the Marines practicing their skills with different channels of communication
including radio, satellite and internet mediums using both new and existing equipment.
Learning the new equipment is crucial to maintaining good lines of communication, said Jones.
"We don’t get more Marines to get something done," he said. "We get better equipment and train the staff we have to be effective with it."
To gain a better idea of how operations would function after stand-up, the Marines erected the
MEU’s new unit operations center. The UOC is a shelter that integrates communications and power into one all-inclusive package.
Jones said that a primary focus of the exercise was to determine how many features of the UOC are essential to the MEU accomplishing its missions and how those features will be integrated with existing capabilities.
But the UOC is just one piece of new gear that the MEU will be employing for the fist time.
The mainstream laptops the S-6 had deployed with in the past for use with e-mail communications through radio signals have been replaced with a more rugged and durable model better suited for the on-the-go demands of the MEU, said Sgt. Brian D. Smith, 26 MEU data chief.
The Marines of the S-6 section do feel that all of the work they are doing will benefit them
in the future, said Cpl. Garrett S. Barnes, 26th MEU cryptology non-commissioned officer.
"If we do get into a combat situation, then all this training, all these long, cold nights in the field, they’re going to pay off with a smooth operation," he said.
With that combat situation a distinct possibility, the S-6 Marines and the rest of the Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU continue to prepare for an early 2007 deployment in support of the
Global War on Terrorism.