CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait--Soldiers of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command's main command post at Fort Knox, Kentucky, deployed here throughout April for a validation exercise for its expeditionary command post.
"The basic foundation for this particular exercise is to validate the 1st TSC's expeditionary command post system," said Lt. Col. Shanna Hendrix, the 1st TSC's assistant chief of staff for communications and information systems, or G-6.
The colonel arrived at the end of March with roughly 20 military personnel from various staff sections at the main command post, and they expect to stay until the beginning of May, she said.
Hendrix said the ECP was not part of 1st TSC's modification table of organization and equipment, or MTOE, the unit's specifically assigned equipment and personnel.
"We determined there was a need to for the 1st TSC to project itself forward, should the need arise based on various operational plans," she said.
"This exercise is not only validating a multi-year project, but also enabling folks in the current TSC to identify shortfalls and how we can improve," Hendrix said. "We need maneuverability, flexibility and the ability to respond at will anywhere in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility."
The colonel said although the ECP is running parallel to the 1st TSC's operational command post here, which is staffed by Soldiers from the Army Reserve's Indianapolis-based 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). The ECP would not stand up as an extension of the OCP.
"The expectation is that if the ECP is needed to deploy to, say, Jordan, then the OCP would not necessarily exist, they would not be fully manned," said the signal officer, who was commissioned from the LeHigh Valley, Pennsylvania, ROTC's Steel Battalion. "MCP folks from Fort Knox would come forward and fall in on the ECP."
Hendrix said that as the ECP stood up and expanded and the mission changes, the ECP would incorporate personnel from the OCP, as well as personnel from other mission partners.
Maj. Howard Reardon, who is the battle major for the sustainment operations center set up at the ECP, said he has been here many times and there are two realities.
"The best way to describe it is that Knox is your up and out coordination, but here it is on the ground down and in, where you have more of your details," the major said.
"At Knox, we are constantly talking to Army Materiel Command and U.S. Transportation Command, so most of our focus is on planning," he said. "When you come here, you're in the thick of it. You're doing future operations, contingency operations to support the warfighter, which is 1st TSC's focus."
ARCENT joins 1st TSC ECP exercise to test its new satellite system
Master Sgt. Brian Chapman, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of U.S. Army Central's Information Systems Divisions, said his team was grateful for the opportunity to partner with the 1st TSC's expeditionary command post validation exercise, so they could establish and test their new 1.3 meter Tampa satellite dish system.
Hendrix said although the ARCENT exercise was hosted in the ECP's compound of connected tents, it is independent of the 1st TSC’s exercise, she is happy to accommodate.
"We are giving them some users, but we are self-sustaining by the JNN," she said. "Having them here gives us a very unique opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison of what does it provide compared to what is provided by more traditional signal resources."
Chapman said the Tampa system is well-suited to the ECP validation exercise, which tests the 1st TSC staff's ability to relocate, establish and maintain an emergency command and control site.
"We did not do this in a vacuum," the former infantryman said.
Working with ARCENT's information systems and communications shop, or G-6, were Soldiers from the 335th Signal Command (Theater), which is an operational Army Reserve command, whose forward deployed headquarters is here, and the 160th Signal Brigade, responsible for all Army communications in Southwest Asia supporting U.S. Army Central, also based here, he said.
"They have been great partners and we couldn't have done it without them," he said.
Chapman said the 1st TSC's exercise uses the Joint Node Network, which is the standard expeditionary satellite stand up with a dish, circuitry and a dish atop the truck.
"They are using a traditional Joint Node Network, with an STT, or Satellite Transmission Terminal, that's kind of where the Army was in 2006, 2007," he said.
The JNN requires a larger team, he said.
The master sergeant said the Army developed a smaller package in 2008 and 2009 called the SIPR NIPR Access Point, or SNAP.
"Here we are in 2021, and we have really evolved to the Tampa 1.3-meter dish--you can clearly see the size differential," he said. The standard JNN dish is 2.4 meters.
The Tampa system is just as robust, but more compact than the JNN, he said.
"Our throughput from a bandwidth perspective is exactly the same as the JNN, but the big difference is that the JNN provides transportation," he said.
While the JNN takes 30 minutes to an hour to setup, he said. "Our Tampa Voyager, we can deploy it worldwide, it fits in the belly of an aircraft--it's a lot smaller--its two cases and two Soldiers can have it set up in about 10 minutes and up on a satellite."
Hendrix said she was impressed by the compact size of the Tampa system. "One difference between the truck and the Tampa system is that everything on the truck is in these cases on these tables and I don't need a truck that could possibly break down."
The colonel said with the smaller system, she could use a lighter vehicle that is more maneuverable. "I can modify the vehicle to give me more or less of what that truck out there, the JNN, can provide me."
Another key advantage of the Tampa system is that the JNN provides tactical data and communications, Tampa provides strategic capabilities, he said.
Typically, a new command post supported by the JNN requires fresh computers and other accounts and the reconfiguring of computers, he said.
"The beautiful thing about the Tampa system is it provides strategic network services that are worldwide and deployable--the staff officers, NCOs, or whatever the case might be, can take the computer directly off their desk and they can move it to the battlefield and plug it into our system," he said.
"They will have the same amount of services they had in the rear," he said.
"We are talking worldwide from here," he said. "We are sending emails, we are making phone calls, we're sharing SharePoint file services," he said.
"I am not picking up a handset radio and talking," he said. "I can call Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I can call Fort Riley. I can call Hawaii. I can call Europe. I can send an email worldwide."
Alabama Guardsmen man the ECP G-6
Alabama National Guard Spc. Anthony Hayes, 115th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, said he was one of the Soldiers working communications and information systems for the validation exercise.
Hayes, whose battalion is deployed to Camp Buerhing, Kuwait, but assigned here for the exercise, said he getting great real-world, unscripted training working in the ECP.
"I'm learning a lot of troubleshooting steps to get our JNN working," the Powder Springs, Georgia resident said.
"We had users, who were trying to call into a conference call and they were unable to make those calls," he said. "We had to put in a bunch of tickets and play phone tag to find out the status of our tickets and why it still was not working."
Alabama National Guard Spc. Timothy Decker, 115th ESB, and like Hayes attached to the 160th Signal Brigade, said he came here to staff the ECP validation exercise.
Decker, a multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer, said he has been working with the Joint Network Node and other systems.
The Decatur, Alabama, resident said he appreciates the chance to work on the actual Army equipment. "It is a great opportunity, because it gets me out of the civilian life and it teaches me hands-on experience--it gets me out of the environment of what I am normally used to."
ECP exercise includes additional projects, validations
In addition to the communications and information systems piece of the ECP exercise, the ECP validation includes running a sustainment operations center and tents for a maintenance yard.
The commander of the 1st TSC Special Troops Battalion, Lt. Col Brian Kibitlewski, said he had two goals for his Soldiers for their deployment here.
"First, it's understanding what we need to do for our jobs, not just as the Special Troops Battalion, but also as the main command post staff to come together, to deploy, to be received and establish the commanding general's command post," he said.
"The next part of it is understanding what we need to do to continue to maintain or increase our readiness to meet the first priority," he said.
The STB commander said his Soldiers are benefiting from the deployment and the exercise.
"This has been a great exercise in a couple of ways," he said.
"As we reduced the restrictions due to COVID-19, we've increased the staffing levels as the MCP, a lot of our folks are brand new to the unit and haven't actually met each other yet," he stated.
"This provides your good old Army team building event that flattens out communications across the formation, meet some folks you haven't met before, build some relationships that you're going to need at the end-state--increasing the overall readiness in order to do whatever mission CENTCOM has for us," he said.
Springfield, Illinois, native Spc. Timothy Atwood, a military intelligence analyst with the STB, said he was not sure what to expect when he left Fort Knox for Camp Arifjan.
"This is really awesome, I didn't know what to expect," he said.
"All I knew about Camp AJ is we had a forward team here," he said. "I was expecting worse from what I had heard. The DFAC is awesome. There is a coffee shop--my wife does not feel sorry for me." DFAC is Army shorthand for dining facility.
Atwood said he is glad to get the chance to work on actual intelligence assignments.
"I get to do some fun intel work," he said. "I am analyzing maps and researching threats in the AO and tracking things for the mission. We're going to be updating every day, where the threat elements and other activities are, as well as maritime activity and looking for trends in the CENTCOM areas."