FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz.,- Remembering the achievements and contributions of our veteran Signal Corps service members can sometimes be difficult to capture and document, since limited access to unit activity reports, service records along with clouded memories can often stifle the research process.
However, sometimes veteran’s will come forward and share their stories just as Mr. Nyle Davis did this past month.
Equally, the Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) would like to share the accomplishments of former Army Specialist Nyle E. Davis, who served with the 501st Signal Company (formerly C Company) of the Long-Line Battalion (South), from October 1973 to October 1975 in the Republic of Korea. Enlisting in October of 1972 and graduating from U.S. Army Signal School at Fort Monmouth, NJ in the fall of 1973, Davis would be thrust into a highly technical and intense signal repair and maintenance environment upon arriving at his new overseas assignment.
Like many Signaleers past and present, Spc. Davis spent many long days and nights “getting the message through.” However, unlike many of his peers, he came to his assignment at one of the most critical and operationally significant moments of the U.S. Army and Signal Corps.
In the months following the strategic drawdown of U.S. Forces from the Republic of Vietnam, the 1st Signal Brigade began to dismantle communications sites and move personnel to the Republic of Korea. Consequently, the brigade established its new headquarters under the command of the United States Army Strategic Communications Command (USASTRATCOM) in November of 1972 within the South Korean Peninsula. However, officially it was by General Order 56 from HQ, USASTRATCOM that on 29 January 1973 the 1st Signal Brigade was reestablished on South Korean soil. However, on 1 Oct. 1973, the Army re-designated STRATCOM as the U.S. Army Communications Command (USACC). STRATCOM leaders moved to modify the command's designation to better suit its changing mission by dropping "strategic" from its organizational title.
As the 1st Signal Brigade assumed its new mission of supporting the U.S. 8th Army and the United Nations, the communications infrastructure had to be reorganized and re-consolidated as the Long-Line Battalion (South) inherited communications assets from 8th Army. Critical to the communications infrastructure of the Southern Korean Peninsula were approximately 15 remote microwave transmission sites covering over 28,000 square miles.
“Company C in the Long Lines Battalion (South) was the largest in terms of number of radio sites assigned (14 initially, as far as I can recall?), with sites ranging from Osan, United States Air Force Base (USAFB) down to Camp Hialeah in Pusan,” said 1st Lt. Edmund Takeya, former Operations Officer for Company C, Long Lines Battalion.
However, when a young Spc. Davis arrived in country, he was first sent as a warm body to a mountain top site, outside Teajon. He was not there even 2 weeks before he was recalled to the company HQs near the village of Anjeong-ri, adjacent to present-day Camp Humphreys, as his unit was scrambling and vigorously trying to figure out how they would maintain and service the multiple microwave sites inherited from 8th Army. With the U.S. Army along with 1st Signal Brigade drawing down and budgets significantly reduced, the Long Lines Battalion (South) found itself being short of school-trained microwave personnel and the inability to purchase the sophisticated electronic test equipment required to provide maintenance support to microwave radios, multiplexers and associated antenna arrays.
“Over 20 pieces of equipment were needed for a single microwave site, for a total of $3 million per site. Equipping all 15 sites would require at least $45M or more,” said Davis.
Although the Long Lines Battalion (South) had bulky spectrum analyzers (frequency selective voltmeters and oscilloscopes), none of these were collocated within the remote mountain sites that made up the direct line-of-site 8th Army microwave communications network. Hauling such large and heavy test equipment often required significant manpower or aviation assets to support these sites. Soldiers often referred to the bulky equipment as “boat anchors.”
At the time in 1973, these microwave sites operating on now antiquated analog electronic circuitry, remained critical to the U.S. Army Signal Corps as each site was equipped with AN/FRC-109 radios (pronounced FRAC 109 by all techs) capable of transmitting up to 960 voice channels. In addition, each voice channel could push encrypted data via audio signals at rate of 56kb baud rate. In addition, each voice channel was capable of pushing several data channels within one voice channel. Because of the capability of these radios, 8th Army configured them to transfer early warning radar data along the Western Korean seashore through the hub station, known as Fresno, connecting all radios North and South of it, and relaying this into the 501st company site, known as Crown. The AN/FRC-109’s operated in the 9.925 to 13.25 GHz range. And microwave signal crews were often stuck on these sites as the base camp was only as far up on the mountain as possible, and everything taken to the transmitter station was hauled by the Soldiers or brought in by helicopter.
As Davis arrived at the Long Lines Battalion in late fall of 1973, the challenge his chain-of-command faced was how the AN/FRC-109 radios could be checked, maintained and serviced. Compounding the unit’s servicing dilemma of the radios, there remained a serious parts issue, red lining more than 50% of the battalion’s test equipment for the established Long Lines backbone radios due to back ordered parts and the transportation challenges of reaching these remote mountain-top microwave sites.
Graduating at the near top of his 26V20 Strategic Microwave Systems Repairer class, Davis a former triple-engineering major at Kansas State University (KSU) in Manhattan, Kansas, stood more than ready for the challenge. Thus, when his unit called him in from the mountain top site in Taejon and asked him to figure out how to test microwave radios without the use of bulky spectrum analyzers, frequency selective voltmeters and oscilloscopes, Davis calmly took charge of the situation and replied, “if you are looking for a procedure it can be done,” said the young Soldier.
Davis then asked, “what equipment is available?” The 501st Signal Company Operations Officer, 1st Lt. Takeya then replied, “we have three multi-meters but we can get more.” Knowing the FRC-109, with his near photographic memory, he recalled from his training how voltmeters could be used to test each and every module in the radio set, outside of the transceiver at the top of the radio rack, with just a voltmeter. And this is how Davis set about to conquer the problem at hand.
According to Davis, what aided this was the manufacturer of the FRC-109 had standardized all equipment cards below the head transceiver section on a single connector and therefore included with all the radios a card extender, where a tech could pull out a card he/she suspected of malfunctioning, plug in the extender, plug the card into the extender and with built in jacks on the card, use a volt-meter to monitor voltages. The problem with that, was the average tech did not know what to look for or know whether the card was functioning properly or not.
Hence, relying on his electrical and mechanical engineering backgrounds, Davis recalling some of these test point values, began to review his Advanced Individual Training (AIT) notes from school along with the radio’s service manual, TM 11-5820-684-15, dated May 1972, to devise a test procedure for this.
“It took me approximately two weeks to develop the procedure for servicing the AN/FRC-109 (V) thru the simple use of a standard multi-meter by taking advantage of the test points on the cards. I could test inputs and outputs on the radio’s numerous analog circuit cards, knowing and verifying exactly what to look for in AC and DC voltages,” said Davis.
Although creating the technical testing procedures would be practically a no-brainer for Davis and his abilities, the parts problem still remained. Consequently, Davis learned the Army had an equipment turn-in yard near his base and he began to scavenge parts.
“I would later be assigned by the battalion to take charge of the Company Property Book and underwent The Army Maintenance Management System TAMMS training. This made me responsible to monthly run both the computer card decks and the TAMMS card deck through the computer, thus generating the required battalion level reports.” said Davis.
“This was my first exposure to computing and he mastered it well.”
Along with his parts scavenging, Davis was able to provide the calibration and repair depot with enough parts to reduce the unit’s red-line equipment from over 50% to under 3%. He became so efficient in the scavenging that the calibration and repair depot began to call Davis for parts for other units and, because he complied in helping the depot fill-in the orders, the depot gave him priority on calibrations. This would reduce his unit’s calibration wait-time from 3 months to just 1 week.
Of course with Davis performing at a high efficiency, he found himself often working under the auspicious watch of supervisors until one day, when a second lieutenant brought him up on charges in front of the commanding officer.
Upon hearing this, Davis’s commanding officer, knowing his efficiency and the improved status of the company due to his efforts, dismissed the lieutenant by saying, “leave him [Davis] alone, he is smarter than you.”
Like Davis, Lt. Takeya remembered some of the challenges to obtaining parts.
“I do recall there was an Area Maintenance Supply Facility (AMSF) unit co-located on Camp Humphreys whose mission included service and repair of FRC-109 systems operating at the Long Lines Battalion's isolated signal sites, and the AMSF Commander (also a lieutenant) was a college roommate of mine who had, at times, a rather abrupt personality, especially when it came to ‘cannibalizing’ any electronic equipment under his charge(or on his property book).”
Davis for the most part operated on his own like a self-professed MacGyver snipping electronic parts from discarded chassis and antenna arrays and using the spare parts to do his work. Davis said, when being interviewed: that so much of what happened to him, would have made a great MASH episode. So when leadership would encounter him, some may have questioned his rogue behavior. If anything, being a super geek, Davis would later credit his experience as an Army signalman, as giving him the social skills to get along with others and become a better person.
Although avoiding court martial might be considered a good thing, the task of accessing the remote microwave sites became a more formidable challenge for Davis as the Korean winter of 1973 took shape on the peninsula. Sites with the names of Crown, Fresno, Garland, Tacoma, Tampa and Richmond would become synonymous in the mind of Davis as his unit struggled to drive him to those remote locations in jeeps or ‘Deuce-and-half’s,’ up the steep and narrow roads. The winter and snow would of course make this an impossible task. Davis realized, by mid-November, that reaching any of the mountain tops by vehicle, would not be possible until spring thaws. A viable solution would later come from a neighboring aviation unit operating near present day Camp Humphreys but this would require a very good justification.
Davis recalls the request for aviation support went something like this; “One evening our company was at the local village pub and the Aviation (AV) group happened to be at the table next to us. We started talking and they soon joined our tables together. I asked their operations NCO for a chopper, and he denied my request saying: Only Generals get Choppers!”
However, when Davis informed the AV NCO that his ‘Early Warning Radar’ traveled over the unit’s radios and without them he was a sitting duck. Hence, by the revelation of that knowledge, Davis was then able to make arrangements to get air support by submitting the standard maintenance and on-the-job-training schedule a month in advance. This allowed the AV NCO to schedule the needed inspection and training sessions via flight training missions. Davis further related the AV unit “would support all his trips deemed as emergency repairs with just a phone call to the AV CQ desk.”
“He always had me in the air in less than 30 minutes,” recalled Davis.
“I seem to recall that the 501st even picked up yet another isolated signal site north of Seoul (though I don't recall the site name?) but I do recall it was somewhere in the vicinity of Camp Howze bordering on the DMZ (that site got assigned to the 36th Signal Battalion because it was serviced by the Army Aviation Battalion headquartered at Camp Humphreys, where Company C, Long Lines South was also headquartered,” said Takeya.
After gaining the support of the aviation unit, Davis would often hop on UH-1 Iroquois (Huey’s) or a four-seater OH-58’s to travel to the remote microwave sites to test radios and train personnel. Davis usually rode in the back-seat of an OH-58, while his equipment, rode on the opposite passenger seat. He would brave strafing runs and nap-of-the-earth flying in order to catch a ride to a remote site. Jokingly Davis said he logged more than 500 flying hours as a passenger but never earned any TDY pay, since his trips were not “official” nor did they have upper command approval! He also joked about “White Knuckling” in the backseat of the chopper, as the pilots executed strafing runs, while slapping the tree tops below.
“I had no headset, so I could never anticipate the intensity and directional flight path of the aerial maneuvers during these training exercises as I found myself holding on to the seat of my pants,” said Davis.
While Davis was assigned to the Long Lines Battalion South, the unit was redesignated on 1 July 1974 as 36th Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade, with its HQ at Camp Walker, Taegu. Likewise, the 36th Signal Battalion was reactivated once more as part of the 1st Signal Brigade U.S. Army Communications Command (USACC) in Korea. The Battalion's mission and responsibilities consisted of those previously assigned to the deactivated Communications Operations Facility and the Long Lines Battalion-South.
Although Spc. Davis’s achievements while stationed in Korea may seem inconsequential to many, his sacrifices, actions and successes in maintaining the strategic microwave connectivity of more than 15 remote communications sites are a true testament of the commitment, dedication and resourcefulness of the men and women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, who have served and continue to serve.
Taking time to recognize Spc. Davis’s role as a Strategic Microwave Repairman is important because it is his service that allowed the 8th U.S. Army to continue its critical mission on the Korean Peninsula. In the years before the total digitalization of computer networks, fiber optics and expanded satellite uplinks, the analog microwave system was the primary U.S. Defense Communications System (DCS) radio transmission system in Korea. Its central feature line-of-site and powerful Radio Frequency (RF) transmitters constituted the “backbone” string of microwave relays connecting most of the major commands and support organizations from the (DMZ) in the north to units in the south.
“The solutions that Davis brought to the U.S. Army and the Signal Corps in terms of equipment reliability, reduced communication down time and negated adversary threats, may never be accurately quantified but the legacy this Soldier and veteran has left behind is unmistakably one of the greatest contributions to the operational success and history of the Long Lines Battalion (South), the 1st Signal Brigade and NETCOM,” said Maj. Gen. Maria B. Barrett, NETCOM Commanding General.
Davis credits all his technical accomplishments as a result of his Signal Corps training and experiences gained as a Strategic Microwave Repairer 26V20. Some of his accomplishments after leaving the service include working in the electronics, aviation, telecommunications and Information Technology (IT) industries. In addition, he also spent time writing on the technical and professional side. Likewise, he developed patents for numerous technological innovations. And he is often called a “World’s Leading Technologist,” a nickname he earned working for companies like General Dynamics and as independent consultant.