News: 7th Communications Battalion wires up MEFEX 14
Story by Cpl. Matthew Manning
POHANG, REPUBLIC OF KOREA - In an age where technology enables rapid decision making, and information can be moved in seconds, the ability to communicate is an invaluable asset for all and can make or break a military operation.
For Marines and sailors taking part in the Marine Expeditionary Force Exercise 2014 at Pohang, communication will be a key element to a successful command post exercise which will test the abilities of the U.S. and Republic of Korea Marines to react to a crisis situation.
“This is the largest communications architecture that we have deployed in support of a MEF-level exercise,” said Capt. John R. Sisson, commanding officer of Company A, 7th Communications Battalion, III MEF Headquarters Group, III MEF. “This is an austere environment which brought new challenges and required a considerably more logistical planning than compared to exercises we conduct on Okinawa.”
The MEFEX 14 CPX tests the abilities of the ROK and US relationship to operate and communicate effectively across the range of military operations, from disaster relief to complex, expeditionary operations.
Upon arriving at the 1st ROK Marine Corps Division Base in Pohang, 7th Communications Battalion had an empty field of mud and snow in front of them and a deadline of 96 hours to provide multiple internet systems, phone and video teleconferencing capabilities to a combined operations center.
“It is always a daunting task to come into a barren area but this is what expeditionary operations are all about, this is what we as a Marine Corps are here to do,” said Capt. Allen V. Pollard, future operations officer with the battalion. “We are able to come out here into an austere environment, not rely on any pre-existing structures or power supply and set up a command post, complete with internet and phones, from scratch.”
In order to make the 96-hour deadline they were faced with, the battalion had an internal deadline for themselves of 48 hours, according to Pollard.
“Within the first 48 hours we have to have our classified, unclassified and coalition computer networks links operational, our classified and unclassified phone lines connected as well as the ability to perform classified video teleconferencing,” said Pollard. “Once we have all these links set up and operational, we will link these capabilities to the COC within the 96 hour point. After the COC is up and running, we will set up links throughout the rest of the camp.”
Marines worked in 12 hour shifts through the cold Korean nights to accomplish the mission.
“There was still snow on the ground when we first got here and the site was basically a giant mud pit for several weeks,” said Lance Cpl. Helen M. Girardot, a native of Royal Oak, Michigan and field wireman with the battalion. “But everything is working now. We never thought we would miss our deadline because we have a great team who went through a month-long workup communication exercise where we did checks on all of our equipment and were able to get everything in place for setting up here in Korea.”
Prior planning and having well-trained Marines will have monumental effects on the success of an exercise or operation, according to Sisson.
“We have been planning, preparing equipment, and training Marines through communications exercises since mid-December for this exercise,” said Sisson. “The training we performed before coming to Korea was absolutely essential to our success once we were on site. You can’t have a command post exercise without communications, so if we were to come out here and failed in our mission, there would not be a command post exercise for MEFEX 14.”
This is the largest footprint the battalion has had in Korea, or any other country, in many years to support the III MEF Command Element as a whole, according to Pollard.
“Throughout the year we support any communications requirements and command and control requirements for the III MEF commanding general, 3rd MEB commanding general as well as any III MEF or 3rd MEB-led exercise,” said Pollard. “This includes exercises such as Key Resolve, Cobra Gold, Balikatan and MEFEX in which we are currently participating. We are responsible for providing the communications support throughout the entire area of operation. We are also responsible for providing rapid response contingency communications anywhere in the Asia-Pacific within 96 hours. This was seen most recently in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts of Operation Damayan in the Philippines.”
“For MEFEX itself we are providing services to many different areas,” said Maj. John R. Boutin, operations officer with the battalion. “We have the MEF main body in Pohang, we have forces providing services in Gwangyang for Freedom Banner, we have Marines on the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit providing services for Ssang Yong, we have forces prepared for an air contingency Marine air-ground task force back in Okinawa and we have Marines preparing to go to Balikatan in the Republic of the Philippines once MEFEX is over. We are providing the best quality services we can to our customers, the MEF staff and their forces.”
As the exercise moves forward, the battalion will continue to provide tactical communication links to approximately 300 users and will additionally add set up commercial connections to provide a better quality of service to the Marines and sailors in Pohang, according to Pollard.
“The Marines have been working their tails off,” said Boutin. “We have had 24-hour operations going since we arrived in mid-February. They set up all the tents, ran all the wires, they made a small city here. We want to make sure that each user, no matter the rank, is provided the best possible services we can provide.”
The ROK and US Marine Corps III MEF teams regularly conduct exercises to ensure interoperability and maintain strong relationships, contributing to the security and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as the entire Asia-Pacific region.