Solution Enabled: Marines improve 26th MEU communications system

29 Oct 2008 | Cpl. Aaron J. Rock 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Fast, accurate communication is essential for modern warfare, and especially for a Marine Air Ground Task Force like the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which integrates command, aviation, ground combat and logistics assets into one complete unit. Only through accurate and timely communication can a dynamic unit like a MEU coordinate its assets effectively and coordinate with higher and adjacent units.

This type of communication is housed in the Marine Corps Joint Task Force Enabler (JTF-E), which is the hub that connects almost all of the MEU’s electronic communications capabilities.

Secure and unsecure internet, telephone, and satellite connections all flow from this instrument in the MEU Command Element’s communications section. But an information relay system this diverse presents its own set of unique problems to which 26th MEU Marines improvised a unique answer.

Enabling all of these communications capabilities requires a great deal of heavy, cumbersome equipment, and therein lay the problem for the Marines, who as part of a MEU, have to be lightning-fast in their ability to respond, move and set up when needed.

“When I first saw the JTF-E, it was spread out over five Humvees, and could barely move from parking lot to parking lot,” said Capt. Jonathan J. Pfuntner, assistant communications officer for the 26th MEU.

Pfuntner, who is currently deployed for his second tour with the MEU, said mobility was immediately identified as a problem, since the vehicles were so packed with equipment they couldn’t fit the Marines who would operate it.

After returning from his first MEU deployment, Pfuntner immediately began looking for a solution.

There was no ready-made option. Pfuntner and his Marines took available parts and pieces of Marine Corps gear and came up with the answer - an M23 7-ton flatbed truck with a “mech-shelter” attached to the back.

“It’s nothing fancy,” said Master Sgt. Gary A. Paquin, staff noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of the JTF-E. “We kind of modified stuff and pieced it together.”

When fully assembled and running, the JTF-E looks like a monster truck crossed with a camper.  The olive-drab sides of the container fold down and provide space inside for a host of Marines and equipment.  Flashing lights blink on banks of computers to the constant hum of cooling fans, even in the air conditioning.

Temperature, climate control and ease-of-setup were factors in the decision to move from multiple Humvees to 7-Ton based platform, according to Paquin.

Because everything is stored and stays in the container, “There’s a lot less movement of gear; it saves on wear and tear as well as remains cooler,” Paquin said.

At the same time, those Humvees are now available to move the necessary Marines.

Overall the new equipment has increased capabilities, increased equipment life, reduced the overall footprint of the JTF-E, and increased the expeditionary nature of the system, according to Paquin.

“Essentially we are totally mobile. We do not have to rely on another Humvee coming with a piece of equipment we need that may be on another (Landing Craft Air Cushioned), and once we get there it is pre-wired and read to go,” said Paquin.

The system has proven successful throughout the six-month predeployment training period and through the deployment so far, and Pfuntner gave the credit to his Marines.

“They worked it out and it worked out near perfect," he said.

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)