Exercise improves 116th IBCT communications system readiness

A signal corps Soldier from the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team takes part in the brigade-level communications exercise March 2, 2013, at Fort Pickett. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

A signal corps Soldier from the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team takes part in the brigade-level communications exercise March 2, 2013, at Fort Pickett. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Signal corps Soldiers from across the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team gathered at Fort Pickett Feb. 19-March 3, 2013, to conduct a communications exercise to improve the readiness of the brigade’s voice and digital communications systems. The exercise focused on individual Soldier proficiency as well as equipment maintenance to help set the brigade up for success during annual training in June 2013 and a Warfighter Exercise in 2014.

“This exercise has dramatically improved the brigade’s command and control capabilities,” said Col. John M. Epperly, commander of the 116th IBCT. “I can’t maneuver the brigade if I can’t communicate on the radio and through our digital systems, and we are now in a much better position to communicate effectively.”

As the Army’s digital systems become more complex, it becomes more challenging to keep everything up to date, Epperly said. “We plan to conduct exercises like this two to three times a year to help make sure our Soldiers gain and maintain proficiency and the appropriate maintenance is conducted. If you don’t stay on top of this and have a plan to stay on top of it, you can quickly fall behind,” he said.

The exercise brought together signal corps Soldiers from the brigade’s communications section as well as the communications sections for the six line battalions and the brigade’s signal company, the Hampton-based Company C, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. Bringing all the Soldiers together helped create an environment to share experience and resources, explained Capt. Shawn Vergott, communications officer for the 116th IBCT.

The 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's communications exercise held Feb. 19-March 3, 2013, at Fort Pickett helped improved readiness in digital communication systems across the brigade's six line battalions. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

The 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s communications exercise held Feb. 19-March 3, 2013, at Fort Pickett helped improved readiness in digital communication systems across the brigade’s six line battalions. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

“These Soldiers are often so focused on their missions they don’t have the time and resources they need to conduct the maintenance and upgrades these systems need,” Vergott said. “This exercise has given them the opportunity to take degraded systems and make them fully operational.”

The brigade made significant readiness improvements across the five main voice and digital communication systems: FM radio, tactical digital data network, Voice Over IP phone service, military global positioning systems and secure telephone communications, Vergott said. One of the big challenges for the digital systems is keeping all the software up to date so each unit can communicate, and during the exercise all the digital systems were reset and upgraded to the most current software in use, he said. The exercise also provided an opportunity to get the generators that power the systems in better operating conditions.

All the work done during the exercise will be validated when the brigade conducts annual training in June 2013. For the first time since 2005, all the units in the 116th will be together conducting training focused at the squad and section level. Numerous federal deployments in recent years put units in the brigade on different schedules, but this year the various squads and sections from infantry, cavalry, artillery, military police, military intelligence, sustainment and other units and will train under a common scenario, Epperly said. In 2014, the 116th IBCT is scheduled to take part in a large-scale Warfighter Exercise at Fort Leavenworth that will involved a division-level higher headquarters and multiple brigade combat teams.

“We can’t afford to wait and try to fix these systems at the last minute,” Epperly said. “We need to be able to communicate effectively when Warfighter starts, and this exercise will help make sure our digital systems are all lashed up, synchronized and working correctly.”

Epperly pointed out the importance of the effective communications systems not just for the 116th IBCT’s federal mission, but also for the state mission. The same systems used to train for possible future combat scenarios are also used when units are maneuvered across the commonwealth during state active duty missions.

The 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's communications exercise held Feb. 19-March 3, 2013, at Fort Pickett helped improved readiness in digital communication systems across the brigade's six line battalions. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

The 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s communications exercise held Feb. 19-March 3, 2013, at Fort Pickett helped improved readiness in digital communication systems across the brigade’s six line battalions. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

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