By Staff Sgt. Brett McMillanSeptember 6, 2011
CAMP WALKER, DAEGU, Republic of Korea -- Always expect the unexpected and assume nothing ever goes according to plan.
For the 200th Military Police Command's communication specialists, ensuring multiple command teams here and at Fort Meade, Md., were connected was a challenge faced head-on during Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2011.
The 200th MPC team was part of more than 530,000 service members from the Republic of Korea, the United States and seven United Nations Command sending state nations that participated in the annual computer-assisted simulation command post exercise.
The training was designed to improve the alliance's ability to defend the Republic of Korea by exercising senior leaders' decision-making capabilities and by training commanders and staffs from both nations in planning, command and control operations, intelligence, logistics and personnel procedures.
"It was an eye opener," said Chief Warrant Officer Rodman Arnold, the 200th MPC's network administrator about the challenges faced during the exercise.
Arnold said his small team designed a robust communication plan with the information given during pre-exercise conferences, but once the advance team arrived in Korea the months of planning and forecasting had to be adjusted to meet the current situation, and the team quickly redirected its efforts.
"They give you information, but you really don't know what to expect until you get boots on the ground and actually assess what you were anticipating."
The first hurdle was the most difficult and time consuming. When the advance party arrived at the 200th MPC's tactical operations center here, the large room was unknowingly cross-wired with another unit's TOC.
"We had to bypass a lot of their configurations to get the television monitors and network to work," Arnold said. "We didn't anticipate that."
Despite the challenges with the facility, Col. Thomas H. Michelli, the 200th MPC's chief of staff for the Korea portion of the exercise and the assistant chief of staff-G6 in garrison, said the team reacted quickly, re-engineered the network and prioritized efforts prior to Maj. Gen. Sanford Holman, the 200th MPC commanding general, and the rest of his staff arriving in the theater of operation.
"The keys were [to build a network] for the operations shop and command group to be able to communicate," he said.
Providing vital communication assets in three separate locations was a cornerstone pillar to the success of the mission, said Michelli
"In each case we had to set up networks we've never set up before, and capabilities that we have never set up before," he said. "So the Soldiers here and the signal Soldiers back at Fort Meade accepted the challenge and delivered."
Michelli said in 29 years in the Army, he'd never had a mission like this that made people say, "You're going to try to do what, in how long?" but his team executed the commander's intent with few hiccups.
Working in a unique environment like Korea, the team had to quickly establish a secure communication capability foreign to most Soldiers assigned to the command.
"Not only did we get it set up over here, but we got it set up in the States," Michelli said. "People said that would take at least a year. We did it in five months."
He said the communication team went from zero to fully operating within days of arriving on the ground before the exercise kicked off.
"We've crawled, walked and ran in two weeks and succeeded at it," he said. "The biggest lesson learned is whenever we had planned out immediate action drills, we had a 'Plan B' and it was successful."
Working on all possible plans was Pfc. Theodore J. Thompson, a signal support specialist assigned to the Reserve command of more than 14,500 Soldiers.
"I ran cable, hooked up some of the computers, and helped set up the video teleconference, and then just continued to stand by to take care of any technical problems that might arise during the exercise," he said.
Spc. Luis Lemus, another signal support specialist, learned a lot during his first annual training this year, and said it's important for signal Soldiers to be ready in advance and more importantly, ready to work.
"We had some minor issues getting familiar with the new software that Eighth Army uses, because we had not used it," Lemus said. "I went from not knowing the two different software platforms to almost mastering them both."
Luis said he was proud to know that he played a role in allowing Holman to communicate with both Eighth Army Soldiers and his Soldiers on the opposite side of the world in Maryland.
"I think we did pretty well," he said.