116th IBCT conducts communications exercise

STAUNTON, Va. — “Net call Stonewall Six, who is on the line?”

These words were spoken Feb. 8, 2015, over the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s multi-million dollar communications system by Col. William Coffin, commander of the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, in his first commander’s call since taking command of the brigade in August. The call lasted approximately 20 minutes, during which Coffin was able to communicate clearly with his subordinate battalion commanders on their preparations for a brigade-wide Multi-echelon Integrated Brigade Training exercise in June at Fort Drum.

The MIBT exercise will be a large-scale training and validation operation in conjunction with the 188th Infantry Brigade, First Army, based in Fort Stewart, Ga. Having a reliable communication network will be vital to the 116th IBCT’s success in June. In preparation, the communication section of the Staunton-based Headquarters Company, has been running continuous exercises over drill weekends.These Soldiers work long hours on drill weekends, frequently working shifts over night to maintain radios and networks for the entire brigade.

Unlike their active-duty counterparts, these communication specialists have relatively little time to complete their training exercises. In order for these Soldiers to make the most of the time allotted, the section is conducting innovative training to maximize time and resources.

Setting up the infrastructure of a communications center is one of the most time-consuming tasks and does not require these troops to train on their occupational specialty. By eliminating the setting up of tents and using buildings the section is able to cut the time it takes to establish a hub in half.

Some of the communications specialists were dispersed throughout the state working with battalion headquarters ensuring that they were up and running, trouble shooting when problems arose and provided on site training.

By using Soldiers to act as Field Service Representatives, a role normally performed by civilian contractors, we were able to save the brigade approximately $5,000 for the drill weekend, said Maj. Shawn Vergott, the officer-in-charge of the communication section.

“The classified network, which can support more than 100 users from 8 locations, gives the brigade commander a common operating picture on the battlefield,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Kellogg, Information Tech Team Chief for the section. “The tactical system’s servers allow units to publish data, maps, and products to the command post. The servers also allow units to communicate via secure email and phone calls.”

These monthly communication exercises allow Soldiers to increase proficiency at their jobs and validate that the systems are working so they are ready should any major event arise, said Kellogg.

From their central hub, Soldiers were on the radio with another unit over 200 miles away in Portsmouth, Va. This verifies that they are ready to provide reliable communication services to responding troops throughout the Commonwealth in a state active-duty mission.

“The spirit here is to build a team,” said Vergott. “We actually get to exercise the job we do down range, every drill weekend. And not as a simulation, but a true pass/ fail evaluation of our core skills.”