News: Clear communication when needed most: Africa Endeavor exercise prepares communicators from across the world to work together
DOUALA, Cameroon — Good communication can ensure the success or failure of an operation, especially at a time of crisis. Even within a single organization it can be difficult to communicate effectively. Adding multiple nations with different equipment and procedures can make the task nearly impossible without preparation.
Communications interoperability exercises can work out problems ahead of time, ensuring that in a crisis different services, and even countries, can communicate with each other.
“Natural disasters don’t respect political boundaries,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeff Marks, a communications scenario observer/controller. “Problems are regional. You have to be able to work with your neighbors."
Africa Endeavor, a joint interoperability mission sponsored by U.S. Africa Command, has become Africa’s largest communications exercise. The 2012 mission, held in Douala, Cameroon, is taking place from June 18-27.
Thirty-six nations are working together this year, making it the largest group of countries to participate in an interoperability exercise.
This year’s scenario revolves around a multi-national response to a major earthquake devastating a fictitious country. Different nations, sent by the African Union, contribute forces to set up radio and internet communications to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid. The mission may be fictional, but the communications are real. While operating within the scenario, participants practice sending and receiving communications with the equipment they would use in a real world mission.
The Joint Interoperability Test Command, part of the Defense Information Systems Agency, a U.S. organization that facilitates and conducts testing of information technology systems hardware, software and components is playing a major role in the exercise. JITC has participated in Africa Endeavor through all six iterations.
According to JITC, communications interoperability has three components: Technical, human, and procedural. The technical aspect focuses on how equipment works with other equipment. The human component focuses on the message of the communication and how people interact. The procedural aspect focuses on finding common practices that are consistent from service to service and nation to nation.
An exercise like Africa Endeavor gives participating nations the opportunity to work on all three aspects. JITC maintains records to make each exercise as productive as possible. During the equipment testing phase, JITC tracks which nations have not participated before or which nations have new equipment and prioritize that testing.
“We bring a lot of continuity,” said Roy Swartz of JITC, Test Director for AE. “I’ve been here for three years, so I’m a familiar face.”
The procedural aspect of interoperability has been the most challenging. Working with the African Union, the information collected at Africa Endeavor is used to refine operating procedures for communication across Africa.
“These exercises set a standard,” said Senegal Maj. Babacar Diagne, who has participated in AE three times. “With good interoperability, communications can bridge operational gaps.”
The African Union began with operational planning for the standby force, said Babacar. It became clear that standardized procedures would be necessary not just for ground troops, but for for communications as well.
“In 1998 I was in the expeditionary force to Guinea Bissau with West African nations. We had not had a chance to train with our equipment and it did not always work,” said Babacar. Now that he has been to AE, he has a much better idea of how to work with the same countries.
The human aspect of interoperability comes naturally during exercises like Africa Endeavor but would be nearly impossible to practice without the face to face contact of having all the participants at a training site. This happens during the exercise scenario, but often happens just as much during a lunch break. To help foster these relationships, Africa Endeavor has time set aside outside of the exercise for a sports day and cultural dinner.
“Getting the radios to work is the easy part,” said Warrant Officer Pierre Paradis of the Canadian armed forces, an observer/controller for AE 2012. “You have to be able to understand what the guys on the radio are saying.”
“If you want to be able to participate in communications exercises worldwide, you need to be able to understand a common vocabulary. This exercise gives everyone some experience working in the same process,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Steve Jacobs, delegation chief for the U.S.
Date Posted:06.26.2012 11:11
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