Army's oldest Signal unit still going strong
April 3, 2013
FORT BRAGG, N.C-- As the smoke cleared and the deafening sound of enemy fire leveled off, the Soldiers of A Company and their Afghan Special Forces counterparts secured the village. The raid had been a dazzling success with no casualties. Then, just as 1st Lt. Jerad Romine and his men began to breathe a sigh of relief, an improvised explosive device struck a support truck en route, and all hell broke loose.
This time, it was only an exercise. The 50th Signal Battalion (Expeditionary), 35th Signal Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps, executed Operation Lion's Fury from 28-31 January at Fort Bragg N.C.
The intensive field training event focused on military operations in urban terrain, media on the battlefield, medical evacuation, convoy procedures and equipment validation. In many ways, the training exercise served as the capstone event for a year of rigorous training meant to prepare for future deployment in the Global War on Terrorism.
"Any time you get urban warfare training, pyrotechnics, and MEDEVAC support in one exercise, I'd call it a success," said Romine. "My Soldiers loved it, and that's really what it's all about."
"The training was as good as I've seen since I've been here". "You get to see your equipment in action, and in this case, see a lot of stuff blow up. It was a great experience. Makes you appreciate how much you still have to learn," said Spc. Daniel Brown, a Soldier assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and deployed with the 50th in support of Operation New Dawn.
When Lt. Col. Christopher M. O'Connor first took command of the battalion in February 2012, such large-scale training events were a thing of the past.
"What this command team inherited was a cycle of deployments and equipment reset that often crippled training. Soldiers were either on block leave, prepping for deployment, or didn't have their equipment because it was somewhere in a port in Kuwait," said O'Connor.
"I served with the 50th from 2000-2002 as a company commander," he continued. "It was a different time. Morale was high. Esprit de corps was the standard. Soldiers worked their tails off in the field all year long, but they had a high sense of pride in what they were doing and their identity as a unit."
For O'Connor and Command Sgt. Maj. Mathew I. Acome, the strategy over the past year has been two-fold: build an environment of vigilant training as well as an appreciation of the unit's history.
"The 50th ESB has a rich history and we are educating our Soldiers to raise unit awareness and pride," commented Acome. "Add to this formula improved technical expertise gained from field training exercises, and the esprit de corps and confidence returns, as the current members of the battalion make their mark in the annals of the 5-O's history."
In the last six months, the 50th has supported training for XVIII Airborne Corps, Joint Special Operations Command, 82nd Airborne Division Tactical Assault Command, 28th Combat Support Hospital, 18th Fires Brigade, 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 2nd Brigade 82nd Airborne Division, 261st Medical Battalion, 27th Engineer Battalion, 3-4 Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 44th Medical Battalion, and 57th Sapper Company.
The high demand is nothing new if you look at the history of the unit. The 50th has been supporting the needs of the Army for 114 years, longer than any other active duty signal unit. With missions ranging from underwater cabling to disaster relief home and abroad to convoy security, to peacekeeping, the 50th Signal Battalion has seen it all.
The unit has served with distinction in the Philippines, Japan, Iceland, France, Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, Jamaica, and Honduras. The 50th stormed the beaches at Normandy and led from the front in Desert Storm. It was the first and only Airborne Signal Battalion when it joined the XVIII Airborne Corps in the 1950s, though the airborne tab was dropped as a part of force modularity in 2006.
The XVIII Airborne Corps Command Historian, Donna Tabor, served with the 50th from 1979-1981.
"The 50th is one of the best kept secrets on Fort Bragg," Tabor said. "In my time, we had a much larger presence here, since our brigade was also on post. But after the realignment a few years ago, you haven't heard much about the 50th. I'm glad to see that's changing today."
Along with building inter-unit relationships on post, the 50th has made great strides in getting its name out in other ways, including social media. It created a Family Readiness Group page on Facebook last fall, which posts current events and chronicles, in great detail, the long history of the unit. Support from 50th veterans has been overwhelming.
"My time in the 50th Signal Battalion was the highlight of my career," remarked Bob Heidenreich, who served with the 50th from 1989-1993 and deployed in support of Desert Shield/Storm. He was one of dozens who shared stories and photographs to help build the online history. "It was my first unit and by far the best I ever served in. I'm glad to see an effort to preserve its history."
Retired Lt. Col. Earnie Robertson shared his personal photos from his time as Battalion S-3 in 1972-1973 for the website. "It was my pleasure and honor to serve in the 50th supporting XVIII Airborne Corps," Robertson said. "Our unit crest bore the words 'Key to Command' and we lived up to it."
Former B Company Commander Capt. Michael Ranado, who served with the 50th from 2009-2012, appreciates the new focus on history and training, as well.
"The battalion's legacy was neglected during my tenure," he said. "It's a shame, because I think knowing and respecting your unit's accomplishments and lineage can motivate and inspire Soldiers."
Current Battalion S-3 Maj. Patrick Lane likes the direction the 50th is heading.
"The initiative of leaders at all levels is making a difference," said Lane. "Soldiers are proud of the mission and their unit. We want to achieve the vision of being the pre-eminent Signal organization in the XVIII Airborne Corps, and we are working towards that every day."
Sgt. Derrick Burton of C Company deployed with the 50th to Afghanistan in 2009 and again to Iraq in 2011.
"When you think of all the places we've been, it makes sense why we train the way we do," remarked Burton. "You have to be prepared for anything. It could mean your life or that of your Soldiers."
For now, the 50th Signal Battalion presses on, always ready for that next mission. If history is any indication, something big is right around the corner.
The 50th Signal Battalion facebook page link is http://www.facebook.com/50thSignal.