FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- On the modern battlefield, who knows what and when can influence the outcome of minor skirmishes to full-blown battles. The ability to out-communicate the enemy, and thus make better decisions faster, can end conflicts quicker and ultimately reduce bloodshed.
To facilitate faster communications within the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) during the unit's time in Afghanistan, it relies on a device known as the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Enabler. This communications system allows the MEU to obtain instant connectivity with anyone in the world.
"The best thing is its flexibility to set up almost anywhere," said 1st Lt. Atiim O. Phillips, a Chesapeake, Va., native and MAGTF Enabler officer-in-charge.
The Enabler funnels different types of voice and data streams into a single signal. This signal is then sent via satellite and bounced back to what is known as a step-site. The step site is a kind of intermediary place that allows the signal sent from the MEU to be separated back into its various components and reenter traditional communication lines, such as commercial phone and Internet lines.
The types of information that the Enabler can handle are numerous; secure and non-secure computer networking and voice transmissions, DSN and commercial telephone, record message traffic, and video teleconferencing.
"It's pretty reliable," said Lance Cpl. Craig Sims, Jr., a data Marine hailing from Detroit, Michigan. "It's like being in the States. We rarely experience outages."
The Enabler is more than just a big switchboard. It's also a command and control device that gives the MEU's commanding officer the capability to stay connected with those under his command - and higher headquarters.
"Our mission is to support our Command Element or a joint headquarters," said Phillips. "We're able to support any one star, two star [general] or colonel."
The Enabler provides communications support for more than the commanding officer. It brings the ability to transfer information across an entire theater.
"We allow the commanding officer to get briefings from anywhere," said Sims. "He can communicate with anyone who's out there."
The Enabler has a feature called the Global Broadcast System. This system allows crucial information such as intelligence reports and photos to get to the people who need them, from planners in the headquarters to the grunts on the ground.
Such capability doesn't come with ease. It takes a team of 14 Marines from multiple military occupational specialties working around the clock to ensure that the system's various components are up and running. A tech controller is responsible for ensuring that each section of the Enabler is working.
"The tech controller is the center of the Enabler," said Phillips.
The responsibility is a heavy one because of the broad range of knowledge needed to keep tabs on all the moving parts.
"The toughest part is knowing everyone else's job," said Sgt. James Cuka, a tech controller from Tyndall, S.D. "All these guys went to school for their jobs, but the tech controller is supposed to know all of it. If it's not working, I'm supposed to know how to fix it."
Still, the Marines of the Enabler have the experience to keep the system running.
"These Marines have set up the Enabler, including during the predeployment training plan, 15 times," said Phillips. "These Marines were put together to accomplish this mission. This is not a standard package. They are highly skilled, tactically proficient, highly motivated Marines."
In addition to its Command Element, the 22d MEU (SOC) consists of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22. For its operations in Afghanistan, the MEU is designated Task Force Linebacker.
For more information on the 22d MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.