When most of us think of electronic warfare, we conjure up movie memories of Germans using triangulation to pinpoint underground radio transmitters, the Japanese jamming Marine radio signals on Pacific islands, or of the Air Force jamming radar signals when conducting bombing runs. Or we might remember the how South Korea suffered from a computer attack on Independence Day weekend.
According to the students and staff of the Electronic Warfare Technician Course at the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, which graduated its first class of warrant officers today, they deal with an entire range of threats in an "invisible war."
Because of security, the staff showed just one slide from the 16-week course, a slide that showed the range of electronic media -- from the lower band that includes radio and cellular communications, both military and civilian, to the higher band that includes X-ray and cosmic radiation. The military\'s been dealing with threats along the entire range since World War II.
Until this year, the Army relied on the Navy to provide EW officers in Iraq. Army leaders saw a problem with that system years ago, so in 2006 the Army began to prepare to train its own EW specialists.
Now, Fort Sill finds itself on the cutting edge of Army electronic warfare.
The graduation of eight warrant officers from a small classroom in the basement of Snow Hall was a milestone in the Army's march to dominate the electronic battlegrounds of the future.
Warrant Officer 1 Luis Maldonado, one of the graduates, was an Army aviator who volunteered to tackle the new electronic warfare specialty.
"Branch told me there was a new branch that seemed very interesting, so I asked for the assignment," said Maldonado, a native of Puerto Rico, who now calls Orlando, Fla., home. "I'm very glad to be here and happy to be a part of the program. I can't wait to go to my next assignment."
Maldonado travels south from Fort Sill to Fort Hood, Texas. He'll become the EW warrant for the 4th "Long Knife" Brigade of 1st Cavalry Division for their upcoming deployment. He described what he learned at the course.
"Our specialty is synchronizing and coordinating electronic warfare while we advise the commander on how to use those assets not only to attack the enemy but also how we can protect our forces from an enemy that has their own capabilities," Maldonado explained. "We have to be capable of not only attacking the enemy, but also ensuring the protection of U.S. assets - that includes the civilian infrastructure."
The training included the latest and greatest technology the military had to offer, according to the course manager, because these warrants are leaving here to go to the tip of the spear.
"All of these warrants are being assigned to brigades about to deploy," said Sam Houston, course manager. Houston, a contract employee from Northrop Grumman and retired field artillery officer, explained that the Army will be adding EW Soldiers to every unit from battery or company to the highest headquarters.
At the lowest levels, the Soldiers will be enlisted technicians to operate and maintain vehicle-mounted equipment for detecting roadside threats. Battalions will have an EW noncommissioned officer and higher headquarters will have an EW team with a mix of NCOs, warrant officers and officers, Houston said.
Maldonado said this group of warrants doesn't have authorized positions in those headquarters yet. He said the EW slots won't be added to unit headquarters until next year.
Warrant Officer 1 Jason Mounce hails from Bella Vista, Ark., and is the EW warrant for Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion 142nd Fires Battalion of the Arkansas National Guard. Mounce appreciated the Army leadership for training Soldiers before authorizing slots for the EW warriors.
"The Army's being proactive instead of reactive," he said. "They could wait to start training when they had the slots, but they're getting people trained now so when the slots do become available, they've got people to fill them."
For Mounce, it was training he couldn't resist.
"This was too good an opportunity to pass up," Mounce said with a smile. "I saw the announcement on Army Knowledge Online. It's a new field and I'm one of eight people in that field, and I like what EW is about. I'd be crazy to pass it up."
Mounce started the journey in February as a Fire Direction Center chief, sergeant first class. He first graduated from the Warrant Officer Basic Course at Fort Rucker,Ala., before reporting to Fort Sill for the 16-week EWTC. His journey has left him in a good place.
"I feel confident that I could go out to the field and execute my mission with what I've learned in this course," Mounce said.
"You might say this is the final frontier as far as battle is concerned," Mounce said. "You're talking about computer networks, electronic communications, and no matter what military you are, those are things that you're depending upon. Even at the lowest level, you need a way to talk to your troops."
Because these and future EW warrant officers will be advising at brigade and higher headquarters, the Army gave them a wide range of knowledge. Houston said Northrop Grumman, the company contracted for the training, brought in a wide range of experts to help design this specific course ... it's not just an advanced version of the six-week EW course.
"It's a combination of not only the EW portion that Northrop Grumman teaches here, but courses taught at other services and the Joint EW Course out of San Antonio," Houston said. All the armed forces input to the training plan.
This first course, also known hereabouts as Pilot Course 1, was designed for eight students. The next course will be bigger and the third course, Pilot Course 3, will find the course in its final, custom-built home at Burleson Hall with 25 students.
The Burleson Hall home of EW will provide a variety of secure class rooms, according to Houston. In addition to computer-packed modern classrooms there will be large areas to pull in equipment for training or to conduct simulated field training exercises.
Not only will the home of the course change, but Houston expects the course to change once all 4,000 projected EW slots are filled.
"This is a transition course that teaches both basic and advanced skills because we have from WO1 to CW3," Houston said. "In time, it will evolve into a basic course and an advanced course. The advanced course will train warrants to work at division and higher headquarters and joint positions. We've got to start somewhere.
"It's a fast start for the Army when you think about it. When you go from where we started in '06 to standing up a brand new career field, getting MTOE positions and all the funding, it's not a zero growth career field, it's a 'grow the Army'. The Army expanded for this career field, which is something that hasn't happened in decades ... since we downsized in the 1990s."
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Santa Mediavilla, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native, leaves the course to report to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, at Fort Stewart, Ga., for her third combat deployment.
She's looking forward to fulfilling a personal drive -- she's just been reclassified from a Long Bow Apache pilot and looks forward to her EW mission.
"I'm going from protecting the ground forces in the air to protecting the ground forces on the ground ... works for me!" Mediavilla exclaimed.