CAMP LEMONIER, DJIBOUTI, Africa --
CAMP LEMONIER, DJIBOUTI, Africa (Sept. 26, 2008) – By all accounts setting up and maintaining a reliable means of communication is essential to just about anything, especially when it involves communicating with two forward-deployed Marine units while flying into a combat zone.
On Sept. 14, four CH-53E Super Stallions and the nearly 60 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit who man them set out on a trek to Al Asad Air Base, where they would join the Heavy Haulers of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron-462 more than 350-miles away. And for the entire journey, they would need reliable radio communication.
Essential yes, but it wasn’t an easy task by any means, explained Sgt. Mark Shewmake, Jr., one of two 26th MEU radio operators dispatched for the mission.
“Most of the time there, until we got to Korean Village, the (satellite communication) was in and out; it wasn’t the best, static electricity and all the other factors come in too when using the (satellite communication) on the birds.” Camp Korean Village near the town of Ar Rutbah, Iraq, served as a refueling point for the Marines.
Radio communication is “mission critical,” explained Shewmake, going on to say, “if you have information that needs to be passed right then and there, and you’re in a foreign country where you can’t use telephones or you can’t use internet, then radio communications is usually there to help. Anywhere you go, some sort of (communication) goes with you.”
Immediately after landing in Camp Korean Village, they set up satellite communication outside of the helicopters in order to keep higher headquarters informed of what was going on, Shewmake said.
“Once we hit KV, I jumped out of the bird and set up my land (satellite communication) antenna and talked right back with the ship and let them know what we were doing, where we were at and what was going on.”
The timely communication proved critical. A sandstorm raging near Al Asad could have proven disastrous for the four helicopters and embarked Marines. “We got stuck in KV for two days. They wouldn’t have known that through the bird’s radio because it’s only (short range) and it won’t reach that far,” explained Rhodenbaugh.
Despite the delay, Rhodenbaugh was still awestruck by where they were at and what they were doing. “I was excited, I couldn’t believe I was in Iraq,” she said.
Once the detachment made it to Al Asad, their job still wasn’t over.
They had to maintain accountability, Shewmake said. It was important for the MEU to know where the Marines were every step of the way. Around the world, satellite communication is the only way to get that done, he said.
After their work in Al Asad, the two flew to Kuwait where they were told they probably wouldn’t be flying out anytime soon, and so they simply awaited information about where they might head to next.
“It just makes you feel like, wow we've been bouncing from country to country and it’s just cool, because we’ll probably never have the chance to do something like this again,” Shewmake said.
After less than a day in Kuwait they found themselves flying to Djibouti, Africa, where they were greeted with open arms by the Marines of HMH-464.
“Every time we got somewhere it was already arranged for us; they knew we were coming and they were happy to see us,” Rhodenbaugh explained. She continued, “When we got to Djibouti everyone explained, ‘Hey, I’m here to help you, I’m going to show you around, I’m gonna greet you’ and everywhere we went, someone was there taking care of us – whether they knew us or not, they were there going out of their way making sure we got back to where we needed to go.”
“It’s something I’d definitely jump on if the chance does come up again, to go from a ship … to landing in Iraq … then to Kuwait then to get on a plane and fly into Africa,” Shewmake said.
Rhodenbaugh agreed, saying, “If I got the opportunity to do this again I’d jump all over it; I wouldn’t want to miss another experience like I’ve had so far, whether it was hot (on the ground) or freezing cold in the air, I still enjoyed it.”
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is currently embarked on the ships of the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group during their deployment abroad.
For more information, news, and video on the 26th MEU, visit www.26meu.usmc.mil.