CAMP STRIKER, Iraq (Army News Service, Jan. 26) - During America's Revolutionary War, dispatches from Gen. George Washington arrived on an average of three a day and were "gloomy to the point of despair," said the members of Congress. But the dispatches came through by couriers and turned the tide of the war at Monmouth, as they have in many wars.
"You can talk about us, but you can't talk without us," is the unofficial creed of signal Soldiers throughout the Army, said 1st Sgt. Ricardo Riostirado, the top noncommissioned officer for Company C, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
In a small shack near the brigade tactical operations center is the very hub of the 2nd BCT's communications networks, from the radios and secure networks that let units far afield call for medical evacuation to the voice-over-Internet-protocol telephones that let Soldiers call home. It's all tended by Soldiers of Co. C.
When they check the bandwidth usage, Riostirado said, it's usually upwards of 200 gigabytes per hour of information flowing back and forth.
"We could easily compete with America Online," he said of the flow of digits.
Even in the United States, networks can fail for a multitude of reasons. In a combat zone, with so many types of input, the possibility for problems is endless - but system failure doesn't mean lost business or e-mail. Here, it can mean lost orders, lost maps or lost Soldiers.
Commanders in the field and in camp are constantly relaying questions, orders and situation reports.
To keep communication flowing and prevent tragedy, the Soldiers of Co. C endlessly maintain and check the equipment. When problems arise, the Soldiers head to remote forward operating bases to make repairs.
With almost 50 trucks, two joint-network nodes, three command-post node transmitters and more than a dozen other major transmitters, there's plenty that could happen.
"We haven't had an outage that's lasted more than five minutes," Riostirado said. "There would be a total breakdown if we didn't. And with dual homing-meaning that there are both satellite and radio-based transmitters - those outages have been immaterial."
Sgt. 1st Class Eric Rees, a platoon sergeant in Co. C, supervises four to six Soldiers per shift as they maintain the equipment.
"The big thing is the heat," he explained. Like most high-tech equipment, the transmitters need to stay cool.
"Without air conditioning the equipment will shut down within an hour," he said. The company has redundant systems to prevent the loss of air conditioning.
Those are hard words in a country where the average high temperature is more than 95 degrees for at least six months of the year, but combat operations never slow down.
Staff Sgt. Chastity Morin, a senior information systems operator-analyst, only recently joined the ranks of signal Soldiers and feels the responsibility.
"I'm learning how things work here, cross-training," she said. "It's a good feeling; everyone's relying on us."
The company has received accolades for the development and implementation of a reliable communications structure that has enabled the brigade to communicate with its subordinate units in a timely manner, with high network capability and strong bandwidth management.
Co. C maintains communications nodes throughout the brigade's 330-square-mile area of operations, enabling both line-of-sight and satellite links. The nodes are indispensable for allowing communications between the divisions and corps.
They also maintain a satellite link to Forward Operating Base Lutifiyah, which expands coverage throughout the 2nd BCT's area of operations and allows secure communications between remote patrol bases.
"It's an important job," said Spc. Christopher Johnson, a signal systems specialist. "We do 24-hour operations here. Our focus is on tackling small problems before they become big problems."