News: Tower Climbing Marines keep communication running
Story by Sgt. Bryan Peterson
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - Climbing telephone poles, easy day. But, climbing towers at least 150 feet high, it’s night and day.
Four Marines with 8th Communications Battalion have spent the past five months climbing towers here and at other bases throughout the Regional Command (Southwest) area of responsibility making needed repairs and conducting preventive maintenance. They work around the clock and at extraordinary heights to ensure units throughout Helmand Province are able to communicate.
“I’m not afraid of heights, but climbing a telephone pole isn’t exactly that high,” said Sgt. Nickolas Auvil, a field radio operator and one of four tower climbers. He said it’s not easy work but the Marines enjoy their job, which encompasses everything from installing wireless point-to-point links for internet and phone services to weatherproofing tower equipment.
The tower climbers are all field radio operators. A typical day would include hiking to the field with a full combat load and setting up radio equipment and antennas, or haul radio gear on combat patrols to keep in contact with rear elements.
Here, the Marines’ daily routine varies, but at any given time they may be called upon to fix a problem on one of the towers. They also conduct communication installations for new units arriving to Helmand province needing communications support.
At least two Marines, one as a worker and another for safety, climb the tower to complete each job. A ground crew, including a corpsman, remains below and ready to assist.
Lance Cpl. Jerrol Guidry, one of the climbers, said the Marines on the ground are very important to mission accomplishment. Without them, the jobs could take longer which could affect other units’ missions.
“They guys on the ground are providing the tools we need,” said Guidry, a Dallas native. “That makes all the difference.”
Reyes said the average job takes about three hours to complete, but sometimes they can take much longer.
Auvil and Sgt. Danny Reyes, another climber, were working on a communications tower here during the first month of their deployment. They climbed 100 feet to make an installation. They began the job at 8 p.m. and didn’t finish until 3 a.m.
“We went up to install a repeater, which is a device that broadcasts signals, and we realized it wasn’t going to fit the bar,” said Auvil. “The bars, as you go up, get thinner so we had to climb back down to resize it and bring it back up to install it. It’s things like that that can frustrate us.”
“It was the longest mission we’ve had the whole deployment,” added Reyes, a Philadelphia native. “Granted, it was our first job and we were inexperienced.”
“But, time flies when you’re having fun,” added Auvil, a Martinsville, Ill., native.
But Reyes and the Marines are keeping track of every mission they conduct, whether that’s travelling to FOB Lashkar Gah or to Camp Dwyer, to make things easier for the next crew who will replace them. Reyes recently created a standard operating procedures manual so their replacements are better prepared in the future.
Auvil said “nothing goes according to plan all the time,” but it’s a lesson learned that will help.
Guidry recently visited Camp Dwyer installed an antenna to give units at different FOBs and PBs different frequencies to use. His mission only took an hour and a half, but it, “was a team effort.”
The Marines, however, do the job with a smile on their face. During the day, when they’re 150 feet high in the sky, they’ll get “interrupted by people on the ground waving to us,” Reyes described. Reyes said it’s funny to look at people on the ground just “stare at what we’re doing.”
Reyes performs most of his missions during the day, but he described Camp Leatherneck, at night, as “an awesome little city.”
Guidry had a fear of heights before the deployment. While the battalion was in predeployment training, the Marines’ unit needed tower climbers and Guidry just “had to be one of them.”
“I joined the Marine Corps for a challenge and to overcome fears,” Guidry said.
His job as a field radio operator, like the rest of the tower climbers, never entailed anything to do with heights. But, looking down, after five months, doesn’t bother him anymore.
“I use to get butterflies every time I went up the tower,” he said, while noticing Reyes and Auvil laughing at him. “I’ve gone from hugging the tower to floating from it.”
The Marines all agreed on one thing, though – there’s never been an experience compared to their deployment.
“This job became such a routine,” said Auvil. “I look forward to it every time I go up and even until we are done with this deployment.”