Wig Wags "signal" theater-level change of command
August 16, 2012
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii (Aug. 15, 2012) -- Red and white flags flapped in the wind as they moved decisively in the semaphore bearer's hands, breaking the silence of a troop-filled Palm Circle, Aug. 15.
Long before the advent of the radio, battlefield communications took the form of the Wig Wag. With each position representing different letters, numerals and special signs, wigwaggers could signal an entire command to attention in complete silence.
The 311th Signal Command (Theater) paid homage to this historical means of communications by conducting the 311th change of command ceremony, during which Maj. Gen. James T. Walton assumed command from outgoing commander Brig. Gen. William Scott, utilizing the Signal Corps semaphore flags.
"This ceremony symbolizes the back to basics campaign," said outgoing commander Scott, who prepared for deployment to Afghanistan to head the International Security Assistance Force Combined Joint Communications within hours of relinquishing command.
Two Signaleers from the 78th Signal Battalion, 516th Signal Brigade, Camp Zama, Japan, silently communicated the orders for the entire ceremony using the visual communication of the two hand-held semaphore flags, commonly referred to as "Wig Wags". Traditionally, one Soldier sends signals, and a second Soldier receives and responds, both moving the flags through various positions. Semaphore bearer Sgt. 1st Class Faamasino Galoia signaled orders from the commander of troops on the ground to Staff Sgt. Neil Ward on a 40-ft. tower, who then silently communicated those orders to all the troops on the field.
"As the commander of troops, I had seen [semaphore flag demonstrations] before, but had never been a part of actually doing it," said Brig. Gen. Janice M. Haigler, deputy commanding general, 311th SC (T).
Haigler noticed that although it was announced that the ceremony would be silent, some guests still looked confused, which illustrates how unusual of an experience it was. "It was definitely different to not yell out the commands. The silence of it gives a different perspective on the change of command."
During the ceremony, Haigler silently directed a field filled with elements representing the entire theater in the Presentation of Command and Honors to the Nation. She then joined Walton, Scott, and Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn, commanding general, Network Enterprise Technology Command and host commander, in a formal inspection of the troops.
The ceremony culminated with the traditional ceremonial passing of the unit's colors, during which Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Thompson, 311th command sergeant major, passed the colors to the outgoing Scott, who then passed them to host commander Lynn, symbolizing the relinquishment of command. Lynn then passed the colors to Walton, representing the official assumption of command. Walton completed the cycle by passing the colors back to Thompson, who returned the 311th flag to the color guard.
The event featured the musical accompaniment of the 25th Infantry Div. Tropic Lightning Band and a quartet of Army Reserve Soldiers, Spc. Anesiglenn Foifua, Spc. Toso Foifua, Spc. Christopher Amituanai, and Spc. Billy Mahnglaei, all from the 9th Mission Readiness Command, performed the National Anthem.
Although the 311th is headquartered in Hawaii, it is the designated Signal command across the Pacific theater. The 311th plans, builds, operates, defends and extends Army and joint networks thoughout. It ensures that information services and systems and communications are provided throughout the Pacific region under any conditions. It is also a multi-component command, which includes Active and Reserve Soldiers.
"The number and scope of this unit's accomplishments is simply staggering," said Scott. "The amount of opportunity that lies ahead here in the Pacific is absolutely unbelievable, and this team is the one that can and will seize it and take it to the next level."
Walton comes to the 311th Signal Command and USARPAC from the Chief of Information, G6, where he last served as Director, Chief Integration Office CIO G6.
"My assumption of command represents a change in personnel, not a change in policy or strategy," said Walton. "To be sure, together with our partners, I will examine our effort to determine where refinements might be needed. To the Soldiers, Civilians, Contractors and Families of the 311th, I pledge to do all that I can to provide the best leadership, direction and example that I can muster."
Lynn spoke confidently about Walton's new position commanding the 311th's vast Signal mission.
"I know you're ready for the challenge of the Pacific and everything it has for you in store," said Lynn. "On behalf of the NETCOM folks worldwide, we welcome you to NETCOM and the 311th family."
Although today's Army no longer uses the visual flag system, the intent of the message, and the mission of the Signal Corps -to get the message through- remains the same.