By Capt. Elizabeth Chamberlain, 2/138th Field ArtilleryJuly 21, 2017
From a field training area of Fort Knox, Maj. Gen. Stephen Hogan, the Kentucky National Guard adjutant general, picked up the hand mic of a military radio and spoke into it. A few moments later, he heard through the radio's loudspeaker Sgt. James Hall's reply from the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky. This exchange was proof that the radio retransmission "shot heard across the Bluegrass" was finally a success.
The RETRANS event, planned and led by Capt. Stephen Young and Sgt. Jackson Gudgel with the 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery, was a joint engagement including the 138th Signal Company, Hall from the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade and members of a small Kentucky town. The goal was to establish a radio network using Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System FM radios to link Fort Knox and WHFRTC, roughly 90 miles away. It was the first time Kentucky signal Soldiers achieved such a network. This also marked the longest recorded radio shot using the standard unit-issued radio configuration within Kentucky.
"As signal Soldiers, units rely on us to keep up lines of communication," said Young. "This test was an example of making the most out of what you're given with standard equipment. The components we used are basic, issued to all units. We proved that they work, and that we can even extend their capability beyond what we have in the past."
For many years, the Kentucky National Guard communications and signal community have collectively partnered in efforts to establish an FM radio shot across the divide between Fort Knox and WHFRTC, but until now, that shot had not been achieved. According to Young, these radio systems, while highly useful due to durability and mobility, have limited range, which requires intermediate extension nodes for such a long distance shot.
"Soldiers must have confidence in their equipment before they can have confidence in their skill sets," he said.
Young gathered a team of signal Soldiers from the 138th to attempt the connection during the battalion's annual training June 3-18. The team needed to erect radio antennae in three off-post locations between Fort Knox and WHFRTC in order to accomplish this feat. With point-A in Fort Knox and point-B at WHFRTC, one of the three RETRANS sites was established in the front yard of a family in Rineyville with the family's permission.
The day after the successful test, the 2-138 commander, Lt. Col. Andrew Bates, visited the family and presented a battalion coin to homeowner Robert Allen Jones, Sr. as a token of gratitude.
"The Jones family's willingness to let some strangers from the National Guard set up an antenna RETRANS site in their front yard is one of my favorite parts of this accomplishment," said Bates. "It shows the trust between the Kentucky National Guard and local citizens of the commonwealth."
This RETRANS event was not the main training event for the joint team. They also provided signal support in the form of four other redundant communication networks at Fort Knox, which the artillery units of the 2-138 used as they fired their Paladin Howitzers during live-fire exercises.
"The Army is asking us to do more with less," said Young. "Through team members' hard work, leaders' effective planning, joint integration/cooperation, and even friendly support from Kentucky's community members, that is precisely what the team has achieved."
The principles used throughout this exercise are a powerful case study for the National Guard, Reserves, and active duty alike. Even the active component is searching for more efficient ways to multitask and effectively conduct concurrent training.
Young gave credit to the members of his team of citizen-Soldiers for their long hours, skills, enthusiasm and sacrifice.
"These Soldiers are required to work harder than ever before, and they do so without complaint," he said. "This was their accomplishment and they are valued as resources for future signal needs."
This capability can provide Kentucky with another means of communication between key locations in case of emergency. At the same time, the 2-138th Soldiers have showcased their proficiency at extending the communication reach of their unit in training or in combat which lends maneuverability and added strength to forces in the field.