News: Radio Data Team keeps lines of communication open
Story by Lance Cpl. Mark Stroud
CAMP SENDAI, Japan – A radio data team comprised of four Marines from 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, pushed forward into Sendai, Japan, helping set up a command center for Joint Support Forces Japan here.
“We were one of the original 15 [Marines]) that were on the ground here in Sendai on the Monday after the earthquake happened,” said Gunnery Sgt. Stuart Mcfadden, staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge, RDT.
The team provided communications abilities to JSF-Japan, allowing the command element to coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations from a working space here provided by the Japan Self-Defense Force.
“We provide the communication support for [Col. Craig Q. Timberlake, commanding officer, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Forward)] and his principal staff,” said Mcfadden. “It gives them the ability to provide command and control to subordinate units.”
The information relayed back from the subordinate units in real-time improves the decision-making ability of commanders coordinating relief efforts that frequently involve multiple branches of the U.S. military, the JSDF and Japanese authorities, according to Mcfadden.
The RDT provides handheld satellite radios called Iridiums to units pushing forward into the disaster zone that provide both communication ability and location updates to higher headquarters.
“This radio provides [position-location] information so the commanders can track where you’re going, or where the convoys are going, on a digital map,” said Mcfadden. “Whenever you key the handset it automatically updates your location.”
In addition to providing communications to forward units, the RDT established both secure and unsecure networks for the command element to use for internal coordination and communications to the rear.
“When we first got here, we used our satellite communications to establish [non-classified internet protocol router network] and [defense switched network],” said Mcfadden. “We have about 24 computers hooked up here.”
As the staff grew to encompass members from all military branches, as well as representatives from government agencies and non-governmental organizations, the RDT expanded their communications abilities accordingly.
“We are a full joint staff now so we have contracted in a commercial connection,” said Mcfadden.
The desire to maintain a small footprint here and high mobility led the RDT to the decision to contract a commercial line.
“We would bring out the communications platoon that is responsible for supporting an element this size but we don’t have space for that many Marines and that much equipment,” said Mcfadden.
The communications networks, both radio and internet, are kept running at all times, so the JSDF can respond immediately to any developments in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
“The networks are kept up 24 hours-a-day,” said Lance Cpl. Bing, radio operator, RDT. “We track convoys and supply drops throughout the night.”
Facilitating the JSDF mission through open lines of communication and maximum distribution of information is the main goal of the RDT.
“The whole point of our cell is coordination with the Japanese, figuring out what they need from us, and we give it to them,” said Mcfadden.