FORWARD OPERATING BASE HIT, Iraq -- The old axiom that the Marines are ‘first in’ often brings to mind the image of infantrymen charging a fire-swept beach or leaping from a hovering helicopter into the thick of battle.
However, as the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) began to set up shop in the vicinity of Hit, Iraq, the first MEU Marines to arrive did so carrying communications gear in addition to their weapons.
Functioning under an umbrella of security provided by both the MEU’s combat forces and those of the unit they were replacing, the Joint Task Force Enabler (JTFE) detachment established a network of communications capabilities that would rival a small town.
“Our mission is to provide the MEU Command Element and Colonel McKenzie [the MEU commanding officer] with telephone service and both non-secure and secure e-mail and internet access,” said 1st Lt. Chris Jones, the JTFE officer-in-charge. “We are the heart of all communications for the MEU.”
The first step in transforming the MEU’s new operating base into a hub of worldwide communications is building the JTFE’s satellite transmitter.
“We [the JTFE] have probably set this up at least 60 times in practice exercises,” said satellite communications technician Staff Sgt. Adam W. Neal. “We even had to practice at night in pitch black, so this is no problem.”
“Once they have built the actual satellite, all we have to do is hook up the power and program the electronics,” said Cpl. Casey D. Sullivan, of Des Moines, Iowa, a ground mobile forces (GMF) operator.
While the GMF team assembles the pipes and wires of the satellite communications epicenter, data network administrators keep busy connecting wires to servers, installing hard drives, and initializing the equipment necessary to decode the satellite signal.
In addition to data (computer) and commercial telephone communications, the two-man shop of telephone wire chief Sgt. Eugenio D. Pena and Lance Cpl. Shy E. Jackson wire the base with a Defense Switching Network, or DSN.
“The DSN is a military telephone network we set up that allows the MEU personnel to communicate with each other in camp, in theater, and back to the United States,” said Pena.
Behind the sounds of ringing phones, digital beeps and dings, and the thunder of outgoing artillery fire, lies the ever present hum of electric generators.
“We’re the backbone of the JTF,” said generator mechanic Cpl. Kyle L. Beck. “Nothing happens without us.”
Beck is one of several Marines in the JTFE section, including Staff Sgt. Kenneth B. Johnson and Cpl. Craig R. Sims, who deployed with the 22nd MEU (SOC) into Afghanistan in 2004 where the Enabler played a crucial role in the unit’s battlefield success.
According to Jones, the 22nd MEU (SOC)’s JTFE section is among the best in the business.
“Because there are so few of us here, every person has to be able to work independently as an expert in their field,” said the Lebanon, Penn. native. “I am definitely blessed to have this team.”
In addition to its Command Element, the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22. The MEU is currently conducting operations in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)’s role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, visit the unit’s web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.