News: Expert team links forward operating bases, battle space
Story by 1st Lt. Belena Marquez
QALAT, Afghanistan - Forward operating bases and combat outposts exist in austere environments. Facilities and services are limited and missions are often crucial. Teams would remain isolated from their parent units if not for one support function--Communications.
Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, a forward deployed team tasked to mentor key leaders in rural Afghanistan, relies upon a small team of Communications experts to keep them connected to the rest of the battle space.
“Like right now,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tylian Goss, PRT Zabul operations non-commissioned officer in charge, as he answered a radio call from a unit on a mission. “They’re about to blow an Improvised Explosive Device in place and I have to let everybody know.”
Goss turned from his workstation in the PRT’s Tactical Operations Center, used the FOB Giant Voice system, and announced, “Attention on the FOB, attention on the FOB, there will be a controlled detonation.”
Quickly and easily, important data from across the battle space was relayed from one geographically separated part of the team to another, all through the use of the PRT’s communications tools.
“We bring capabilities to place conversations, intelligence and information assets from anywhere in the world into one room, even in unstable southern Afghanistan,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Palmore, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul communications officer. “We … provide the real-time link from the policy and decision makers stateside to the war fighters on the ground in Afghanistan.”
The Communications team is comprised of a small group of service members from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army National Guard. The diverse team works together to maintain the ties between PRT Zabul and the rest of the battle space, which is not without challenges.
“Not having easy access to additional parts needed, random power outages and the environment are big things,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joel Crowder, PRT Zabul communications non-commissioned officer in charge. “Being in a job where things need to be done yesterday can be very difficult because sometimes you get a need or mission critical thing that you may need to replace or add to one of the FOBs and it may take anywhere from a couple of months, to almost your whole time here at the PRT to get that part in, sometimes not even then.”
Despite the difficult acquisition process for resources and an environment seemingly built to break down technology, the team perseveres. The support required of PRT Zabul’s Communications team means that they must overcome obstacles while also acting as subject matter experts in a variety of fields or the PRT mission will fail.
“We have to juggle and support anything from maintenance to being a technical advisor,” said Crowder. “[We] provide communications support for radio, computer, internet, and all kinds of communications in vehicles, as well as for the Tactical Operations Center.”
The TOC represents the heartbeat of the PRT’s mission to bring stability to Zabul province through governance, reconstruction, and development. The coordination for every mission that the PRT conducts starts and ends at the TOC, but without communications support, none of it would be possible.
“We provide the communications capability for the TOC,” said U.S. Army Spc. Brianna Whaley, 422nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion information systems operator. “Our support helps them track missions faster and improves their ability to talk to higher headquarters and other units, compared to previous wars. We make them able to do their job faster.”
In a warzone, situations can change quickly. The members of PRT Zabul rely on their TOC to be responsive to those changes in a timely manner, because sometimes a few minutes or seconds can determine mission success.
“Connectivity speeds up the communication process,” U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jared Shavrnoch, PRT Zabul communications technician, said. “People use it as a resource, it’s a morale booster, and people cannot complete the mission without it.”
Communications experts at PRT Zabul maintain connectivity, despite challenging conditions, because they must.
“It is a critical link that brings the world to our fingerprints, even at a remote FOB in south-central Asia,” Palmore said.