Article and photos by Cpl. James M. Mercure
Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix
First Photo: A Marine assigned to Combined Anti-Armor Team, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, uses a handheld radio to keep in contact with the Marines assaulting a Taliban-held compound, Aug. 28. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Gene Allen Ainsworth III)
Second Photo: Captain Ross Schellhaas, commander, Company F, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, and native of Meridian, Idaho, uses a radio to communicate with his platoon commanders following the raid his Marines conducted on a Taliban headquarters building. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James M. Mercure)
HELMAND PROVINCE, Camp Barber, Afghanistan – “Eighty ones, we are receiving small arms fire. Request air support!” the radioman shouts.
This life-saving call for fire support wouldn’t happen without the Communications Platoon of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, part of Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix.
“We were providing security for a fire support team and they started to get hit with small arms and R.P.G. (rocket propelled grenade) fire,” said Sgt. Dan R. Coon, a TF 2/7 ground sensor operator and Thousand Oaks, Calif., native. “Without ‘comm,’ we wouldn’t have been able to coordinate an air strike to destroy the Taliban building where the rounds were coming from.”
The Communications Platoon keeps the front lines connected through various means, but the primary source of communicating around the headquarters camp and within areas surrounding the FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) is through the use of hand-held radios similar to walkie-talkies.
“By issuing radios to the commanders on down to the squad leaders, the Marines are able to maintain constant contact with higher headquarters and other adjacent teams,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew R. Henry, radio chief and Toledo, Ohio native.
“Radios are the main source of communication for the battalion.”
Due to the high operational capacity and different networks used for communication, TF 2/7 communicators have one of the largest and most complex data networks run by a battalion in the Marine Corps.
Maintaining communications on such a grand scale is essential to linking the commanders with their Marines, as TF 2/7 continues its mission of conducting counterinsurgency operations with an emphasis on police training and mentoring.
“We maintain five data networks for the Marines and other services to maintain communication throughout this area of responsibility, as opposed to other bases that only have two,” explained Master Sgt. Adam D. Bethard, communications chief and Assumption, Ill., native.
“The ‘comm’ we’re dealing with out here is as complex as the communications of an entire division.”
The challenges of producing and monitoring the enormous system has been a daily test for the Marines.
“When we arrived here, we had to build the entire data infrastructure from the ground up,” said Lt. Darrell G. Mounger II, communications officer and McKinney, Texas native.
“It’s not like we fell in on an existing system. So it was an incredible challenge to get it up and running. It took 10 Marines about three weeks to get fully operational.”
Afghanistan’s rugged terrain is a major factor when delivering communication to the FOBs austere locations. Luckily, the Marines here have help from above.
“We have the ability to use various forms of communication methods to overcome that obstacle and get ‘comm’ out to even the most remote FOBs,” Mounger said.
The Marines also use a high-tech computer system to help track and troubleshoot friction points when problems occur.
“Bad weather, such as sandstorms, can affect communications. Trucks can also run over land lines, severing them. Luckily, we have a state-of-the-art monitoring system and very proficient Marines to go out to the FOBs and fix any problems that may arise,” said Sgt. Donald O. Critchlow, assistant data chief and Falls Church, Va., native.
Keeping the commanders connected with the Marines at the tip of the fighting spear is simply another day on the job for the communicators who work in shifts, 24 hours a day.
“If communications breaks down you could have problems with medical evacuations, stranded patrols, an inability to coordinate with other units and other problems making the mission next to impossible,” Bethard said. “We know how important it is to keep constant communication. This is why we take our job so seriously.”