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'Firebolt' connects signal technology to warfighters

By Cheryl Boujnida

FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, June 24, 2005) – Imagine how frustrating it is when you can’t pick up the phone and place a call, fax a document timely, and Internet services are down, or moving at a snail’s pace – seeing red yet?

“People expect to ‘flick the switch’ and have their services work,” said Brig. Gen. George J. Smith, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve 311th Theater Signal Command, Fort Meade, Md.

Flicking a switch on the battlefield to access communications technology can be crucial to the warfighter, and the 311th TSC put this capability to the test in a worldwide signal exercise June 11 to 24.

Grecian Firebolt 2005 is a joint exercise involving active-component, Army Reserve and National Guard signal units. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Military Affiliate Radio System known as MARS, and private-sector technology partners also participated.

The annual exercise tests interconnectivity of communications technologies among all partners, and the ability to provide high-quality information technology services to the warfighter on the battlefield. During Grecian Firebolt, signal units across the U.S. provide strategic and tactical communications services in a field environment to both combat and combat support units participating in their own annual training exercises. Units from at least 10 sites received services ranging from video teleconferencing, to voice over Internet protocol.

“We help Soldiers stay alive by providing them the technology they need to accomplish the mission,” said Maj. Jean Perry, 311th TSC Grecian Firebolt Officer in Command and exercise network engineer.

The exercise, which has been on-going since 1994, improves integration and interoperability among services, and with federal partners, by providing “made-to-order” signal technology and resources through the Integrated Theater Signal Battalion concept, said Col. Louann Nannini, 311th TSC chief of staff. She said an ITSB integrates into a single unit traditionally separate signal disciplines, such as cable and wire, switching, and satellite communications. The pieces of an ITSB can be configured based on the requirements of the warfighter, and quickly deployed to maintain network operations in a combat theater.

About 780 Soldiers, airmen and civilians from across the country participated in the exercise to provide communication services to a range of military customers. Units participating and supporting 311th TSC during Grecian Firebolt include: Delaware Army National Guard’s 280th Signal Battalion, Georgia Air National Guard’s 224th Joint Communications Support Squadron; Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 211th Engineer and Installation Squadron; Army MARS from Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; representatives from Department of Homeland Security’s FEMA; the Army Reserve’s 35th Signal Battalion in Puerto Rico; the Army Reserve’s 392nd Signal Battalion in Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology and Command or NETCOM, and the active-component 86th Signal Battalion at Fort Huachuca.

“We were able to provide a reliable, high-quality, voice, data, and video teleconference communications infrastructure for all units participating in Grecian Firebolt 2005,” Nannini said. “The exercise is multi-layered and introduces new technology in a joint environment. In today’s war on terrorism, we’re working in a joint environment to accomplish the mission collectively – our technology must be compatible because we all have the same goal in mind.”

She stressed that linking Homeland Defense components, such as FEMA and MARS, to the Grecian Firebolt exercise is critical. “Their support has been outstanding. They bring new technology and new ideas to the table, and allow us to expand the exercise so we can have more participation from government agencies around the country,” Nannini said. “The bottom line is that Grecian Firebolt grows every year in terms of technology, service and technical depth expertise.”

“This allows the agency to work out interoperability issues with our military partners,” said Ozzie Baldwin, FEMA Region 6 Mobile Emergency Response Support Team representative. “Through these training scenarios, we keep up with interconnectivity because they allow us to identify problems and solutions over the last several years.”

Grecian Firebolt 2005 directly ties into the Army’s transformation vision of creating a sleek, deployable force that is expeditionary, relevant and ready, said Brig. Gen. Dennis E. Lutz, commander 335th Signal Command in East Point, Ga.

“This exercise mirrors exactly what we are doing in Iraq. It’s very relevant and very timely,” Lutz said. “In the Army Reserve, when we are called upon to send a unit into combat, there’s little time. Our success in supporting our nation requires us to work with all components in the field. That’s how we fit into the Army’s transformation ideology.”

Lutz stressed training opportunities like Grecian Firebolt benefit the warfighter. “When they are called - not only do they need to be ready - they need to communicate. Being able to test our skills in a joint environment directly applies to warfighters on the battlefield,” he said. “Interoperability is crucial to the mission. We need to be able to operate with any equipment configuration and forge relationships with each other. We might not call things by the same name, but we all have the same mission – to ensure that the warfighter can get the job done. The issue of interoperability among our military services is critical for our nation.”

Lt. Col. Pete Menicucci, commander of the 422nd Signal Battalion, Nevada Army National Guard, agrees with Lutz.

“Our Soldiers are training exactly the same way they’re going to fight,” Menicucci said. “Grecian Firebolt is good for Soldiers because when it comes time to deploy, they’ll be ready. We know we are Soldiers first.”

The Grecian Firebolt exercise is composed of many working parts, but the ultimate goal is to prepare Soldiers for readiness in wartime operations. “Everything we do is geared to our mission. We have to live it and breathe it every day, whether we’re in the sandbox or not,” Perry said.

By promoting a team concept, Grecian Firebolt was very successful, she said. “You can have all the assets in the world, but if you don’t have a team – there’s no communication – literally,” Perry said. “We can’t always plan for what will happen, but as a team, we can ensure that we always have something in our hip pocket that we can pull out and use when we need to.”

Master Sgt. Keith Monderewicz from the 392nd Signal Battalion, noted the exercise provides Soldiers with the opportunity to be exposed to new technologies. . “They get exposure to equipment that they can get a feel for, because they’ll be seeing it some time again down the road,” he said.

“Being out here gives me the chance to become more familiar with signal operations,” said Spc. Godwin Barley, who recently volunteered to deploy to Iraq with a Florida Reserve unit. Barley, born in England to Jamaican parents, felt this type of training inspired more intangible benefits, such as strengthening core values.

“Being loyal is the backbone of the Army. All of us have fears about going to war, but once you raise your hand and commit yourself, you owe it to the Army and your country to be loyal,” Barley said. “Without loyalty, the Army today would not be what it is – successful.”

“It’s important for Soldiers to get the training they need now, so they know what to do,” said Sgt. Eugene Williams, from the 86th Signal Battalion, and a three-year active-duty Soldier. Williams, a Chicago, Ill., native, enjoys working in signal technology, “I just picked out a job that sounded cool, and went with it. I thought it would be tough, but training opportunities such as this make it easier.”

After deploying to Iraq for one year in 2003, Williams said Grecian Firebolt provides Soldiers with “what you see is what you get” training.

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