By Sgt. A.M. LaVeyOctober 29, 2015
HERNADVECSE, Hungary - Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade crossed over from Slovakia to Hungary at the border point here Oct. 28, 2015, on the seventh day of Operation Bayonet Thrust, the multinational convoy heading home to Vicenza, Italy, after a five-month rotation in Lithuania, in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the United States' continued commitment to European security.
During those last five months, the paratroopers from Company D, 503rd Infantry Regiment, have been actively using their communications equipment and vehicles, training with with allied forces - battle-tested equipment that they now are relying to get them the more than 2,600 kilometers home safely.
"Being able to communicate with each other and with our allies is a key part of this operation," said Spc. Christopher Wells, a signal support specialist with Company D, and the person in charge of making sure the communications equipment for this 17-vehicle convoy is functional. "We need to be able to communicate with all the vehicles in the convoy, as well as our higher headquarters at all times during this mission - it's about safety and security of the people, as well as the other motorists on the road."
The convoy is using a mix of vehicle-mounted and hand-held radios, each with its own mission. Each time the convoy crosses a border, the signal team works with host-nation equipment to make it easier for the military police escorts.
Wells and the rest of his team have had a lot of training in both foreign and domestic signal equipment during the last five months in the Baltics.
"We trained with the Lithuanian army on their equipment and they've trained on ours," said Wells. "Training on each other's systems comes in handy when we're asked to work with each other; it improves the interoperability of our two forces."
While communications is important, it's the Humvees and other wheeled vehicles that are tasked with most of the work during this operation, being driven an average nine hours each day - for a week straight.
"We've never driven long distances like this in such a short amount of time," said 1st Lt. Filiberto Pacheco, a platoon leader with Company D. "We've really been able to spend a lot of time with our equipment during this operation - we've have learned and are always testing our maintenance capabilities."
A tactical recovery truck, the military version of a tow truck, along with a crew of maintenance personnel are following the convoy, but to date, there has been no issue that couldn't be solved at the operator level. A petroleum supply specialist and his fueler are also following the convoy, allowing the drivers to travel the long distances.
"Our ability to free move across Europe from country to country and sustain ourself along the way is a demonstration of our readiness capabilities," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Thompson, a platoon sergeant with Company D. "But we aren't' doing this alone - and we couldn't. Our NATO allies are helping to make this mission succeed. Working together continues to strengthen our bonds and prepares us to be mutually ready for future operations."
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe and is capable of deploying ready forces to conduct the full range of military operations across the U.S. European, Africa and Central Commands' areas of operations within 18 hours.