“Cable Dawgs” splice fiber optics to keep battlefield linked
Staff Sergeant Brett Thomas, Task Force Atlas, 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, supervises two soldiers while splicing fiber optic cable to connect network equipment at the Area Hub Node in Camp Marmal, Afghanistan. Photo by Spc. Robert Hadden, 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion

CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan -- If you’ve ever watched a technician install television or internet, first imagine the intricate wiring routing and connections necessary for your home, then vastly increase the complexity, including exchanging the metal coaxial cable for 21st-century glass fiber optics. Then take that surgery-like wiring job and transport it to the middle of northern Afghanistan, all carried out inside a remote base in extreme temperatures, dusty conditions and over other environmental obstacles.

What you’re imagining is the daily reality during deployment for fiber-optic cable installers, or “Cable Dawgs,” a specialized occupation within Schweinfurt’s 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion.

“The 44th ESB plays a vital role in this region,” said Battalion Executive Officer Maj. Luis Alvarado in an e-mail exchange. Alvarado and the battalion are currently deployed to Camp Marmal, near Mazar-e-Sharif, part of the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command North.

“Because we’re setting up networks where there weren't any prior to us getting here, everyone on the American side of Camp Marmal relies on us,” added Alvarado.

The cable installers’ relatively small numbers within the signal battalion magnify into a huge contribution to the overall mission.

“Most, if not all of the permanent communication implementations here run on fiber optic cable,” said Staff Sgt. Brett Thomas, a Senior Cable Systems Installer Maintainer with the 44th. “Our ability to modify the cable lengths is critical to assure projects get completed without any delays that could potentially affect the supported units.”

And if you think the cable splicers perform an obscure battle-specific task that only matters within the confines of forward operating bases, think again. Without the network the 44th built and maintains daily, the troops there "including the largest contingent of the German Bundeswehr outside the Federal Republic of Germany" wouldn’t be able to contact their European or American command teams. It also allows troops stationed there to use the internet and contact their friends and families.

“The communications capability provides worldwide reach-back communications through voice and data applications from anywhere on the 62,607 square mile area that 44th is responsible for,” said Thomas. This is a domain larger than the state of Georgia. “We support over 5,000 customers in the region.”

Cable splicing is no small part of this mission success.

“Cable Dawgs are worth their weight in gold,” stressed Maj. Alvarado. “[They have] patience, know-how and the steady hand it takes to perform optical fiber fusion.”

And the battalion’s mission is just getting started. According to an official battalion release, the first 90 days of the deployment have been eventful, as their arrival there precipitated a wide-ranging mission setup. Now that they’ve laid the foundation for their time at Camp Marmal, the 44th can move on to the primary objectives of their yearlong mission.

“Currently we are the only technical support in northern Afghanistan,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas.

With a modernized Army fighting a war that’s highly dependent on constant technological communication, the fine-tuned Soldiers of the 44th will certainly be using their expertise on a daily basis over the next year in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Page last updated Fri August 12th, 2011 at 00:00