RAMNICU VALCEA, Romania -- U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 2nd Theater Signal Brigade are setting up and validating signal equipment to provide communications and network support for a day and night river crossing taking place July 16-18, 2017 near Ramnicu Valcea, Romania, as part of exercise Saber Guardian 17.
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.
Alpha Company, 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 2nd Theater Signal Bde., will provide voice and data over U.S. and Army Coalition Mission Environment, or ACME, networks to the 648th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Georgia National Guard, and the 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, enabling mission command for the river crossing as part of exercise Saber Guardian 17.
The mission of a MEB is to provide critical maneuver support to the force commander, normally at the division level, and can manage up to seven battalions. For Saber Guardian 17, the 648th MEB will provide command and control for units participating in the day and night river crossing near Ramnicu Valcea.
"As one of the Army's primary terrain management brigades, it is essential for a MEB to have the signal support capability a signal company provides. From satellite to FM capabilities, the MEB could not conduct mission command without this capability," said Col. John Gentry, commander of the 648th MEB.
For its Saber Guardian mission, the 648th MEB will have Military Police, Engineer and Air Defense Artillery units assigned.
2nd Lt. Sean Wallace, a platoon leader in A Co., 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn., said his platoon will provide communications support to the 709th MP Bn. through a Joint Network Node (JNN), a Command Post Node (CPN), and a Secure Internet Protocol Router/Non-secure Internet Protocol Router (SIPR/NIPR) Access Point (SNAP).
"Those are all designed to support different echelons depending on size -- a JNN supports a brigade, a CPN supports and battalion, and a SNAP supports a company and below," Wallace explained.
After setting up, the Soldiers acquired a satellite link, entered the network and validated their equipment, and began troubleshooting any issues.
"Validating is just making sure that the equipment is ready to go before the mission, because communications assets are so important that if they go down everyone knows about it," Wallace explained. "By validating beforehand we can identify any problems we might have, any shortcomings of the equipment, any repairs that we might need to make."
The teams will also begin integrating with their supported units to better learn their requirements and provide the best possible communications support. Wallace said the training goals for his Soldiers are to learn from their supported units and to maintain 99.999 percent network reliability.
Capt. Kelly Seeley, the S-6 Communications and Information Management officer assigned to the 709th MP Bn., said without communications his unit would not be able to provide mission command for the wet gap crossings. He credited the Soldiers from the 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn. for providing his unit with essential voice and data connectivity needed to accomplish its mission.
"They go to the fullest measure to make sure we are up on communications, they never give up and their professionalism is great," Seeley said of the Soldiers from the 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn.
Sgt. Harrison Nichols, a CPN team leader assigned to A Co., 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn., said his team prepared Saber Guardian 17 by supporting the 709th MP Bn. during a command post exercise in June in the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany.
"We learned to make sure we have everything and that all of our equipment is functioning, to check cables and the importance of site selection," Nichols said.
Wallace said site selection is a constant challenge as elevation, trees and power lines can all affect signal strength.
"There's always the challenge that the site location is determined based on tactical feasibility and never on network infrastructure, generally," he said.
Because of developing mission requirements and terrain challenges on site, A Co., 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn., is developing an on-the-ground solution to find the right combination of equipment at the right location to provide essential communications support, including ACME network, to units providing mission command during the river crossing exercise.
"It's fairly significant in that right now they have no way to communicate between their forward element (command post) to their main (Tactical Operations Center) other than by push-to-talk radio," said 1st Sgt. Russell Prupis, A Co., 44th Expeditionary Signal Bn. senior enlisted leader.
He said the company is re-evaluating placement of assets to gain a line-of-sight shot between the 648th MEB headquarters and the forward command post at the crossing site. Establishing the connection, Prupis explained, will allow the units to exchange graphics and data needed to build a Common Operating Picture and provide effective mission command.
"We are able to support this as far as manpower, knowledge and capability, the only question becomes the lay of the land," Prupis said.
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.