By Capt. James Williams III, 1st Signal Brigade Public AffairsFebruary 8, 2013
The missions of signal units and signal staff positions vary just about as much as the individual snowflakes that are currently falling upon South Korea. So what is the biggest difference between being a Signal Company Commander and a Battalion S6? A commander has the additional authority to administer military justice and is overall responsible for the unit's property. What's in common? They both have the responsibility for ensuring cyber security on the networks under their charge, ensuring that their subscriber's communications needs are met, and like the snow that has fallen, join together to create a network that supports the larger mission.
Capt. Matthew Black, from Shreveport, La., is the S6 for the 1-72nd Armor Battalion, 2nd of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Of the many duties required of Black, ensuring that his command post and individual tanks can securely communicate and exchange targeting data are his priorities. He, like many other signaleers, believe that the S6 job is validated as a key developmental position for signal captains.
"Being an S6 puts you in direct support of maneuver operations, which is something you wouldn't get in a purely Signal unit," said Black. "This is very important experience and knowledge to have as officers and prepares us for higher level positions."
Capt. Ryan Collins, from Wasilla, Alaska, commanded the 552nd Signal Company of the 41st Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade. His primary duties included ensuring tactical and garrison communications support to the 2nd Infantry Division and the Joint Security Area located on the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Ryan has also served as an S6 before taking command and believes that both positions are valid key development jobs; however, like most military officers, he believes that commanding is more beneficial.
"The differences are huge," said Ryan, "As an S6, knowing your craft as a technical planner is key to being an effective staff officer but you have no authority to accept risk. Command is all encompassing; about leadership and managing a large organization."
When asked what position he believes captains should have for key development, the commander of 41st Signal Battalion, Lt. Col. Warren Wood of Lithonia Ga., replied "They should have both."
"You can tell the difference in the officers that have both experiences and it is significant," said Wood.
Few people can deny the important role of the S6 and the amount of responsibility that comes with the job but commanding has always been the hallmark position of development for captains. The debate goes on as to which position is better for a signal captain's career, but two things are certain. Both positions are highly necessary for the Army to continue accomplishing its missions and even more importantly, they must work together to be effective.
Black's commander can't maneuver his tanks or communicate with his Korean Army counterparts on the battlefield without the work of his Commo Officer. And without the support of the 552nd Signal Company, or a like command, Black's commander can't communicate with the rest of the Army or the other military services.
Wood's opinion that signal captains should have both positions is certainly a good one for discussion. An S6, having commanded first, would certainly understand how signal commands prioritize information assurance and would be less likely to take shortcuts to accomplish the mission. This experience can save a unit a lot of headaches when requesting services from the local Network Enterprise Centers.
A commander with S6 experience understands the fast pace of a maneuver unit and would most likely prioritize fighting units for services and streamline request procedures to make things as least painful as possible without compromising cyber security.
There are certainly more variables that influence this discussion, budget, positions available, time in grade, deployments, individual career goals, and, of course, the needs of the Army. Though captains who have served in either position are being promoted to major, and serving well, this discussion needs to continue as signaleers continue to refresh its beloved corps.