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Marines communicate for Afghan ops

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 3/21/2004

Story by Lance Cpl. John E. Lawson Jr.

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan(March 21, 2004) -- Communications Platoon, Headquarters Company, 6th Marine Regiment, held a two-day communications exercise at Camp Bulldog here March 15 and 16.

The exercise was intended to test the platoon's communication capabilities in Afghanistan, according to 1st Lt. Greg A. Lizak, assistant communications officer.

The Belmont, Calif., native said communications "is not like flicking on a light switch and everything starts working. We have to adjust equipment and practice with it."

He said the CommEx successfully tested certain communications equipment and identified problems with others. "We found what we have to fix and what areas we need to improve," he added.

Sergeant Javier Perez, assistant wire chief, said the Marines configured communications equipment to meet the requirements of potential future operations.

"We used the CommEx to determine what settings are right for our systems," the San Juan, Puerto Rico, native said.

The Marines set up and tested communications equipment including satellite and line-of-sight systems, along with other communication equipment. The equipment gives them capabilities to transmit both voice and data either by satellite or line-of-sight transmissions.

Satellite systems broadcast a signal upwards, bouncing it off satellites to reach its intended target. Terrestrial systems send signals through line-of-sight directly to the receiving system. "Satellite communication is like make a long distance call while most line-of-sight communications is like make a local call," Lizak explained.

6th Marines deployed to Afghanistan late February to early March to provide command and control to various combat and operating forces in the area.

"Communication is extremely essential," Lizak said. "With units spread throughout our area of operations, communications gives the commander the ability to talk to units and get them what they need."

The communication equipment tested during the exercise is also used to communicate with the various Provincial Reconstruction Teams operating to accelerate the well being of Afghan people throughout various remote regions of Afghanistan. To ensure the regiment's ability to communicate throughout the entire area of operations the platoon contacted all units within the area, some hundreds of miles away.

The equipment these Marines work with is not the kind of radio you might find at Radio Shack, Lizak said. He explained the system the Corps and other Coalition forces use has encryption and other security precautions to prevent information from getting into the wrong hands.

Geography and different aspects of the region, such as varied elevation between the mountains and desert valleys, hinder communication. "It is difficult to talk over long range in this type of terrain," Lizak explained.

The Marines worked hard to accomplish their mission, Perez said. "They worked all morning testing everything."

"This is what we do before we send Marines out on missions," he said. "They know everything that could go wrong and how to fix any problem in a timely manor."

"Since we've arrived here we've been setting up and getting ready. This exercise was the first chance since we got here to do what we trained for and show what our platoon can do," Lizak said.

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