By Liana MayoOctober 30, 2012
TORII STATION, Japan -- After heralding for more than 50 years the proud legacy of support that will continue in Okinawa, the Signal orange colors of the 58th Signal Battalion were cased during an inactivation ceremony at Torii Beach landing zone, Okinawa, Oct. 12.
A crowd of more than 100 Soldiers, Civilians and their Families and friends looked on as Col. Scott Baer, Commander, 516th Signal Brigade, assisted 58th Commander Lt. Col. Eulys Shell and Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew Wynn in casing the unit's colors, which seemed to valiantly resist the effort as they thrashed about in the strong wind.
While the battalion was directed to inactivate as part of the Army's Manning the Force initiative, the team will continue to provide secure communications for the military community in Okinawa and across the Pacific, now with battalion staff support from the 78th Signal Battalion at Camp Zama, Japan.
"The Soldiers and Civilians of the 58th Signal Battalion, both in the 333rd Signal Company at Fort Buckner, and the 349th Signal Company here on Torii Station, proudly represent one of the longest standing Army units in Okinawan history," Walton said, "They still provide the superb Signal support they always have, all the while showing by their actions how to be good neighbors, engaged members of one's community."
Walton's accolades were echoed by Eijun Ikehara, Deputy Mayor for the village of Yomitan, situated near Torii Station. He thanked Walton and confirmed the reputation of philanthropy the team has gained over the years through active volunteering for various causes such as the local orphanage.
On the same beach which Marines came ashore many years ago, "Team Five Eight" paid silent homage to the Signal Corps' historic, visual means of battlefield communications which employs two Soldiers and four hand-held semaphore flags, also referred to as "Wig Wags." One Soldier sends signals and a second Soldier receives and responds, both moving the flags through various positions.
Red and white flags flapping loudly, Spc. Morgan Marino of the 349th Sig. Co. signaled orders for the entire ceremony from commander of troops Maj. Angela Johnson, the battalion's last operations officer.
"The wind was catching the flags and felt like it might pull me over," Marino said. The island had recently been ravaged by Typhoon Jelawat and even as her inhabitants struggled to recover from the damage, tropical storm Prapiroon brewed menacingly nearby.
Spc. Joshua Best, of the 333rd Sig. Co., repeated the same brisk, decisive movements to relay Johnson's orders from a platform raised about 30 feet above the formation, to the Soldiers on the field.
"While the casing of colors today signifies a change in senior leadership and support for you, I am confident you will continue to accomplish your diverse mission sets, vital to the success of the 311th Signal Command (Theater), which is no stranger to distance," Brig. Gen. James T. Walton, Commander, 311th Sig. Cmd., said during his remarks. "Continue to treasure and honor your dual heritage, of beautiful Okinawa and her people, and of the United States Army Signal Corps."
Each of the two Signal Companies on the island has a diverse set of missions they accomplish simultaneously around the clock to provide a broad spectrum of communications services for the Air Force and Marine Corps on Okinawa and Army personnel across the Pacific.
The 349th team runs the Network Enterprise Center on Torii Station, providing IT Systems Support, Networking, Cyber Defense, and the planning aspect of the Signal mission.
The 333rd's mission provides global satellite communications "reach-back" which extends Defense Information Systems Agency core services to the Joint Warfighter via the STEP/Teleport DOD Gateway, and the Regional Hub Node-Guam. The 333rd operates the only DOD split STEP/Teleport in the world which is located on Fort Buckner and Torii Station. The company also provides an Inter-base Telecommunications Network and its services
throughout Okinawa. Commander Cpt. April Campise and her team work closely with Defense Information Systems Agency and Cpt. Jason Sharritt, Commander, Echo Company, 53rd Signal Battalion, whose team facilitates satellite access and is co-located with the 333rd on Fort Buckner.
"My primary concern as we prepared for this transition was ensuring continuity of support for our team here on Okinawa and their families, which will be a challenge for the leaders and staff on mainland Japan," Shell said. He will serve next as the Deputy Commanding Officer for the 516th Signal Brigade, headquartered at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.
The ceremony featured the Japanese National Anthem, performed by Kazue Hayakawa, the U.S. National Anthem performed by Sgt. Dawn Wallace, and the musical accompaniment of the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band.
"Many folks don't even know about all the great things we've been doing, because we do them so well…one example of this is Operation Tomadachi -- within hours of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami (when their primary networks were down) we were providing communication for Naval ships so they could accomplish their mission," said Mike Bennett, who held several positions with the 58th, lastly as the deputy operations officer. "I am very proud to have been a part of this organization. And what makes it so outstanding is the people."
One such individual who brought long standing continuity and excellence to the unit was special guest Julian Antonio. During his military career that began in Okinawa and spanned 64 years, he served the 58th in a variety of positions, beginning with Supply Specialist and retiring in 2010 as Project Support Activity Supervisor. When Baer recognized him during the ceremony Antonio stood and offered a slow, respectful bow to his comrades of the 58th, past and present.
"The Signal team of the 58th Signal Battalion has always provided excellent service and prompt support in any network outage that needed their assistance," said Larry Grimes, Deputy Director, Marine Air Ground Task Force IT Support Center, Western Pacific, whose classified network rides the fiber optic backbone that the 333rd manages as the executive agent of inter-based connectivity, across the island to all Marine Corps garrison users. "Without their expertise our operational capabilities would be severely impacted."