NEW ORLEANS -- “I operate radios. It’s the first and last line of communication in the Marine Corps,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Lutz, a radio operator with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Command Element, which recently deployed in support of the Special Purposes Marine Air/Ground Task Force St. Bernard, which provides humanitarian assistance to the Gulf Coast area affected by the category four Hurricane Katrina.
Since the Marines staked a claim at Naval Air Station Belle Chasse, just southeast of the storm-ravaged city of New Orleans, ‘communications’ has been the buzz word from the command element level all the way down to the privates in the field, especially since the first radio check was conducted before the command element facility had electricity. The successful communications situation associated with the hurricane relief efforts has started to circulate around the Corps.
Staff Sgt. Miguel A. Rivera, frequency monitor for the command element’s communications shop, shows pride in the one-week journey he and his Marines made in the rehabilitation of New Orleans.
“We laid down the basic comm architecture for this site. From here, we hopped onto the Marines at Stennis and started working their comms up there to give them a stable backbone. Then we moved up to Slidell, where hopefully we’ll do the same thing,” said Rivera.
Establishing a few nets is wonderful, but the turnout of mission accomplishment in the shop is what makes these Marines stand a cut above.
“We get (situation reports), rescues, vehicle recoveries and anything along those lines,” said Lutz, who pointed out that his section deals with issues of dire importance on a daily basis.
“We’re passing communication to the grunts and the line units so they can get their mission done and help rebuild Louisiana,” he said.
Another important, yet sometimes overlooked, aspect of communications are computers, said Sgt. Stephen Lahnen, data chief for the SPMAGTF’s Information Systems Management Office, who also noted that in today’s technological-savvy age, Marines have become attached to the job assets they provide.
Lahnen reported his systems are up and running with unprecedented proficiency, to include military networks, internet, and e-mail.
“I think now we have better equipment. In the past we’ve had to do the same thing with not so good equipment, but now we have newer laptops and better testing equipment, so it makes the job easier,” he said.
The tradition of accomplishing the mission is getting passed down to Pfc. Ledetra V. Reese, one of the unit’s newest field radio operators on her first real-world contingency.
“I’ve learned a lot of different kinds of radios and dealing with traffic that comes from all kinds of places,” said Reese, who said she feels a strong sense of contribution to the hurricane relief efforts, “they teach me things I don’t know and answer any questions I might have about my job.”
Whether they’ve been around the block or a few times or picking up the radio for the first time, the Marines in charge of communications are one of the most vital assets in supporting operations within the SPMAGTAF.
“All the previous circumstances have been training. This is a real-deal thing, like Iraq or Afghanistan. Being in the United States adds a lot more significance,” said Rivera. “Instead of being miles away … we’re doing it over here in our own country and on our own soil, for Americans.”