NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy -- When a crisis happens somewhere in the world the ability for military commanders to communicate over computer networks and phone services is critical to the overall success of the mission.
Providing this communication capability is a key function for the Joint Task Force Enabler detachment of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Called JTF-E for short, this small group of Marines is responsible for ensuring that the 24th MEU, and combatant commanders in Europe, Africa and the Middle East can have a reliable means to share information.
The team is made up of 19 Marines from various specialties in the communications job field and has been deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella since late March while the preponderance of the 2,300-strong 24th MEU has been deployed aboard the amphibious assault ships of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group.
“By being forward staged the JTF-E greatly reduces the set-up and access times for the Marines on the ground, and ensures they have the communications capabilities they need for mission success,” said 1st Lt. Louis Batson, the officer-in-charge of the JTF-E detachment, and native of Lilburn, Ga. “From their location in Italy, the JTF-E provides communications services to the other elements of the MEU while they are operating ashore.”
In the first four months of the 24th MEU’s deployment some of these places ashore include spots as far off as Jordan, Kuwait, and future training exercises planned in Djibouti.
Forward positioning the unit has allowed the various elements of the 24th MEU to maintain communications and information flow through a series of satellite connections spanning thousands of miles. Because the JTF-E is already set up and is always in position, operating units can tie into a network immediately.
As a crisis response force that can be thrust into a variety of missions and potentially establish the groundwork for a larger Joint Task Force with other services and countries, having this communication network at the ready is critical.
The JTF-E provides access to the Global Information Grid via a satellite communications network. So what exactly does it consist of?
Imagine a satellite dish that many of households use for television reception. Now imagine that dish about 20 times larger that can be mounted in the middle of the desert or on a rooftop at an airbase in Italy.
The dish is connected to various routers and servers with cables and cords strung to various receptacles that ultimately provide the backbone of connecting a signal from Earth, to a satellite, and back down to another, smaller satellite dish forward-positioned wherever Marines are operating on the ground.
The service all this equipment provides includes unsecure and secure email and web browsing, phone service, secure information sharing sites and access to command and control software.
All of this gear is can be packed into five Humvees and is ready to move and be set up within 48 hours.
“A JTF-E has never deployed in this fashion”, explained Batson, who said other MEUs are considering positioning their JTF-E detachments the same way in the future.
The current forward-deployment set up in Italy is unique for the JTF-E, which is typically packed up on one of the amphibious assault ships and sent ashore during large scale exercises or operations.
“In regards to the 24th MEU deployment, I personally believe that overall, this has been a positive experience for myself and the other Marines ashore in Italy with the JTF-E detachment. We have gotten a chance to be utilized unlike any other MEU’s JTFE by providing a stable communications architecture for the Marines ashore,” said Sgt. Nicholas Bernatowicz, the detachment’s satellite chief from Fairfax, Va.
While their fellow Marines have been participating in a variety of exercises throughout the European and Central Command theaters of operation, the JTF-E Marines have made the most of their stay in Sigonella and have an appreciation for the service they provide for the rest of the MEU.
“Working out of Italy is an awesome experience. It's nothing like I thought it would be. When I got to the MEU, I thought that I would only be sitting on a ship, working out of a tiny office. Instead, I'm working in Italy helping support the entire MEU as they push ashore,” said Lance Cpl. Gregory Van Gundy, a data network specialist from Lawrenceburg, Ind.
As they look toward supporting the Marines on the ground over the next few months the JTF-E Marines remain positive and enthusiastic about their mission.
“Although we have not gotten the opportunities for viewing and experiencing other countries, I do believe the Marines here understand the importance of our position and mission as the JTFE, and that has been more personally rewarding than any liberty experience. The extraordinary accomplishments these Marines have undertaken and completed, I am hoping, will have a lasting impact on their deployment experience,” said Bernatowicz.