JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - The 59th Signal Battalion at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson overcomes every obstacle to recover from a simulated blackout caused by the earthquake scenario for Alaska Shield 14 here that started on March 27, 2014.
"When the earthquake hit and the strategic network went out we moved our operations over to a different building that was serviceable," said Maj. Benjamin J. Van Meter, operations officer of the 59th Signal Battalion. "That network allowed us to start bringing the strategic network back."
The climate of Alaska is uncooperative. First the antennas have to be secured into the tundra, often using an arctic grounding technique because unyielding terrain. Rock salt is used as a stabilizer and conductor in the frozen ground and snow. They use the weight of equipment or vehicle tire to secure it.
Soldiers devise ways to compensate for the cold temperatures that make the ground too hard and the equipment too slow.
"We hook a bullet heater up in the back of the equipment," said Spc. Joel A Resler, with the 59th Signal Battalion. "Once we have it heated up, the equipment will keep it warm."
Also the mountains limit their line-of-sight to satellites. A satellite dish must have clear line of site in order to transmit information. These antennas along with satellites and radio lines establish communication for mission operations.
"If something happened with the satellite we can use the radio, something happens to the radio, we can use the satellite," said Van Meter.
"They provide us that absolutely necessary, critical signal infrastructure so we can talk," said Col. Steven W. Fletcher, chief of staff for the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command. "And all of our combat systems that allow us to get that common operating picture."
This was the first time this unit has faced the complication of establishing and coordinating communications with the numerous agencies participating in the state-wide Alaska Shield 14 exercise to get them all on the same page.
"We didn't want to reinvent the wheel at each of those different units," said Warrant Officer Anthony S. Inglesias, network technician with the 59th Signal Battalion.
Alaska's remote location and their headquarters being located at Helemano, Hawaii makes the unit here uniquely qualified to handle these conditions without requesting additional support. They have little choice but to be self-sufficient.
"These people train harder because they're isolated," said Inglesias.
Their training in Alaska Shield 14 better prepares resources to recover from a blackout situation caused by any disaster including the earthquake and subsequent tsunami for which Alaska Shield was designed to simulate.