MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU, Romania -- Ahead of the official start of exercise Saber Guardian 17, the 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 2nd Theater Signal Brigade, has established a forward Theater Network Operations Center at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania to build and monitor U.S. Army and coalition networks, integrate U.S. forces and partner and ally nations, and troubleshoot any issues.

Exercise Saber Guardian 17, a U.S. Army Europe-led, multinational exercise, will take place in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania July 11-20, 2017. SG17 is larger in both scale and scope over its predecessors. Approximately 25,000 service members from 30 allied and partner nations will take part, and the exercise highlights participant deterrence capabilities, specifically the ability to mass forces at any given time anywhere in Europe.

2nd Theater Signal Brigade's mission is to build, operate and defend Army and coalition networks, enabling mission command by providing strategic and tactical voice and data communications to U.S. Army Europe assigned units, regionally allocated forces, and NATO ally and partner nations participating in exercise Saber Guardian 17.

The 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn. will operate as the Theater Network Operations Center, or Theater NETOPS, for the exercise - a role normally performed at corps level. The "Lightning Ops" cell will give the 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn. the added capability and responsibility to monitor the Army Coalition Mission Environment network, provide network resolution and service or escalate trouble tickets, all while providing tactical communications support to warfighters in the field.

The concept for Lightning Ops forward was born out of lessons learned from exercise Anakonda 16 in Poland and has been in planning since last September.

"The difference between Saber Guardian and Anakonda is we have the right people here forward, the correct density and correct skill sets in one location to have that communication collaboration, shared understanding of the network and what is occurring on that network from a maneuver perspective," said Lt. Col. Adam Sannutti, commander of the 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn., speaking June 27 at Lightning Ops.

Maj. Benjamin Hoffer, 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn. executive officer, said the biggest challenge and majority of the planning effort went into getting the Lightning Ops structure right.

"The people and processes are most critical to this because without the right people focusing on the right tasks it all becomes chaotic," Hoffer said. "We have a robust and focused operations center that is solely looking at the Saber Guardian communications infrastructure."

Capt. Nick Snoad, 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn. assistant S-3 Operations, Plans and Training officer, serves as a battle captain at Lightning Ops tasked with monitoring the network to maintain situational awareness and provide troubleshooting support to users across the theater. He said it's important for communicators in Lightning Ops to understand what's going on in the exercise and synchronize their efforts with the maneuver units on the ground.

"If we understand what's going on, we can then set priorities with communications assemblages across the theater to make sure those are our points of emphasis, and hopefully then meet [U.S. Army Europe commander Lt.] General Hodges' intent of mission command at the most critical junctures," Snoad said.

"Success is an easy metric to measure: if the maneuver commander can communicate, he can command," Sannutti said.

While the 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn. is the lead for the Theater NETOPS for Saber Guardian 17, it's a collaborative effort with 2nd Theater Signal Bde., U.S. Army Europe G-6 Communications and Information Management, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, 86th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, the 4th Infantry Division and others. Master Sgt. Juan Steele, liaison officer from the 21st TSC to Lightning Ops, said communications are critical for his unit to provide logistical support to exercise Saber Guardian 17 and across the European theater.

"I'll be the bridge between the 21st TSC and the 44th [Expeditionary Signal Bn.] to make sure that everything we need is brought to attention here, and everything that they need that we can influence is brought to attention as well," Steele said. "We need to be able to communicate and influence as much as possible."

Sannutti said teamwork has been one of the keys to the early success of Lightning Ops.

"Everybody has shared goals, everybody is very technically and tactically competent, and everybody works well together. The crosstalk between the communicators in this theater is something that we want to sustain," Sannutti said.

Lightning Ops will provide continuous 24/7 monitoring of U.S. and coalition networks through the end of exercise Saber Guardian 17 in July. In addition to Saber Guardian 17, the 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn., the only expeditionary signal battalion in Europe, is currently providing tactical communications and support to U.S. Army Europe and its regionally allocated forces participating in Operation Atlantic Resolve, NATO's enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup in Poland and multinational exercises in Hohenfels, Germany, among other ongoing missions across the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of operation.

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2nd Theater Signal Brigade conducts Department of Defense Information Network operations to enable mission command in support of U.S. Army, Joint and multinational operations throughout the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of operation.