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Arizona Army National Guard provide voice and data communications

By Sgt. 1st Class Robert Freese June 28, 2017

BELLEMONT, Ariz. -- Arizona Guardsmen from the 365th Signal Company were at Camp Navajo Training Center June 4-16 for their annual training, which included providing secure and unsecure voice and data communication capability to their higher headquarters, the 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, as both units prepare for an upcoming Warfighter exercise at Ft. Drum, New York, later this year.

Soldiers in the 365th are conducting training tasks that are part of each Guardsman's annual requirement to maintain their level of competence on specific Army skills like land navigation and physical fitness.

These communications Soldiers are also taking advantage of their two weeks of annual training to work on skills unique to signal units. One of those tasks is setting up a remote line-of-sight communications link.

While the Guardsmen used the time and topography to conduct a variety of training, their ultimate mission here was to make sure the MEB has reliable telecommunications and Internet service as they prepare for Warfighter.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Tydings, a satellite communication operations sergeant with the 158th MEB, said that the signal company gives the MEB commander the ability to have oversight of the battlefield over live data streams and communicate with commanders in the field.

"It basically allows us to reach all the way out through all the equipment and truly do our mission," he said.

Providing fully integrated and cost-effective networks that meet the MEB's communications needs significantly increases the brigade's warfighting capabilities.

"The 365th is absolutely critical to the success of the MEB headquarters," said Col. Lonnie Branum, 158th MEB brigade commander. "Without communications, especially at MEB headquarters, without the ability to talk to our higher, adjacent units or even subordinate units we would be of zero value."

A primary role of the 365th's is to support the MEB as they get ready for the Warfighter exercise. According to the Department of Defense's Total Force model, National Guard and Reserve units "maintain the same capacity to confront the challenges of today's complex world." The 365th helps ensure the MEB can meet the challenges of today's warfighting.

Staff Sgt. Eric Lady, a signal support specialist and 1st platoon sergeant for the 365th, said that the MEB brigade commander uses specific software and programs to monitor the movement of battalions.

"That can't be done without the signal company being up-to-date and we have to work as a team. That's how we help the brigade overcome the challenges that they have," Lady said.

According to Lady, who has been with the company for five years, this is the highest level of motivation he has seen in Soldiers in the unit.

"They may only get to touch this equipment once a quarter, so to have the opportunity to come out and set up for two weeks and get their feet wet doing what they love to do; the motivation is all over their faces," he said. "Then to get to see how it affects the Army, with the brigade being out here, that's a whole other aspect that they don't get to see every time they set up. So, they enjoy the challenge. They take pride in what they do."

The company's leadership agreed and said the positive attitude of the Soldiers motivates them to constantly find ways to improve their skills.

"The better we're able to do our job, the better [the MEB] will be able to communicate," said Capt. Gabriel Foltz, the company commander of the 365th.

Foltz was part of another signal unit that proved the importance of communications during an exercise last fall at the Army's National Training Center in Ft. Irwin, Calif., while supporting the 1-285th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.

"We were the only unit that had good comms the entire exercise. So much so, that people kind of forgot that we were providing all these services until the last day," Foltz said.

During the final day of the exercise, a circuit board burned up in one of the unit's major pieces of communications equipment, causing them to lose all of their data and voice communications.

"It brought home to me just how much the ability to communicate is taken for granted and that's my mission - to make it so that no one has to know my name, no one has to know what we're doing," Foltz said. "I'm OK being the 'ghost in the machine.' I'm OK being the 'man behind the curtain.'"

Even though Foltz is happy staying behind the scenes, he said his Soldiers in his unit continue to grow professionally in order to support the MEB's mission.

"We're here to refine our process, gain expertise and experience with our equipment, and know that we can be given a mission and accomplish that mission, he said. "And that's how we can best serve the brigade."

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