News: PRT Zabul's Gridiron: Comm Airmen keep PRT 'linked in'
Story by Tech. Sgt. Stacia Zachary
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SMART, Afghanistan - Communication, an essential requirement for the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team, allows the team to stay connected during missions, daily operations and constant interactions with the Afghans, coalition forces and other mission essential counterparts.
Forward Operating Base Smart is known as the quintessential model for all counterinsurgency interactions operating in Afghanistan, the compound boasts accommodations located within the heart of Qalat City. While small in size of personnel, the ongoing missions are robust requiring top notch communications support for both in-house communications equipment and those used for missions outside the wire.
"This [compound] is a giant hub for all the comm support needed to sustain operations here and at the other outposts we have [in Zabul province]," said Tech. Sgt. Scott Dunham, deployed from the 78th Mission Support Group at Robins AFB, Ga.
The communications Airmen's job entails a wide variety of equipment to keep online and functioning.
"We support everyone from the [tactical operations center] to the work computers to the morale computers to the all the different tactical vehicles -- pretty much anything that has a wire on it."
For Senior Airman Visna Uk, on-the-job training has been the fundamental key for him to do his job and keep lines of communications open.
"At home, my knowledge is in telephones," said Airman Uk, deployed from the 744th Communications Squadron, Andrews AFB, Md. "When I got this tasking, I quickly realized that I would have to learn everything to be able to work over here. This is my first deployment and it's made me realize how important communications is -- especially over here."
While terrain presents its fair share of obstacles, being able to get supplies prevails as their leading challenge the communications airmen face here.
"Supplies are very hard to come by so we end up having to figure out how we're going to get the parts we need in the quickest way possible," Sgt. Dunham said. "Sometimes it means going to other FOBs and seeing what they can do without so that we can get our systems up and running."
The PRT operates within the confines of the city which require visits out to the different sections to see how projects are proceeding. When a group leaves the compound, team leads communicate to each other and the TOC via radio support. Ensuring this capability remains a fully functioning asset is essential to daily operations.
"Every handheld radio that is used here, we maintain and ensure the crypto is [installed] on each one," the sergeant said. "They are the most common form of communication used."
The biggest responsibilities for these Airmen is to keep a constant and reliable source of communications open to the PRT personnel.
"If you don't have comms, then you can't be heard or seen," Sergeant Dunham said.
"It's pretty much your worst day if comms go down and you're outside [the wire]," Airman Uk added.
Their duties are not limited to ensuring the communications lines remain open. The small number of personnel located here has made it essential that all Airmen here are dual hatted. When the PRT mission mandates a team going outside the wire, it's a common occurrence that Sgt. Dunham will be either a truck commander for a vehicle or a driver while Airman Uk mans the M-240B heavy machine gun as a turret gunner.
"We're also responsible for keeping the all the trucks in the convoy up on comms while we're traveling from Point A to Point B," Sgt. Dunham said. "If the systems inside the vehicles go down, it's my job to trouble shoot them."
With only two airmen dedicated to keeping the communications equipment up and running, time becomes a precious commodity.
"There aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done," the sergeant said. "We have 52 vehicles we're responsible for with a minimum of seven systems on each. Many of the vehicles we get need upgraded comms so we're torn between maintaining the old ones and getting the new ones up to our standards."
And, while there seems to be a pecking order to what tasks need to be accomplished and in which priority, things have a way of always changing the game plan.
"You start each day with a list of priorities and by breakfast, that entire list is scrapped," Sgt. Dunham said. "When you have a convoy leaving out and their systems are offline, that pretty much becomes your priority."
Whether on a secluded outpost in Afghanistan or hiking up the side of a mountain, combat communicators keep the U.S. military online and linked up.
"We're here to provide comms to everyone who needs it," Sgt. Dunham said. "But out here, we play by the Army rules -- you do your job and everything in between. It's the only way to get everything done with such a small amount of people on hand."