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Cpl. Colby F. Staples, Cpl. Jefferson A. Saures and Lance Cpl. Antonio E. Reyes, field radio operators with 3rd battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, use a “dagger” or GPS location devise, to determine their angle of azymuth before setting up a communication station at the Brownie Creek parking lot during an abbreviated version of the Mountain Command and Control Communication Course offered at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, Calif., Jan. 29.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Communication Marines tackle mountainous challenge

29 Jan 2009 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Marines from Regimental Combat Team 7 and 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, underwent an abbreviated version of the Mountain Command and Control Communication Course here Jan. 26 to 30.

Gunnery Sgt. Brad Faulkner, the chief instructor of the communication course, said the standard 10-to-15-day course is offered eight times a year to Marines holding communications-based military occupational specialties and may open to Marines serving as provisional communicators.

The course is designed to teach Marines how to communicate in complex terrain and focus field expedient antenna employment with high frequency radio systems, very high frequency systems, ultra high frequency systems and satellite communication in mountainous environments like Afghanistan, said Faulkner, a Glasgow, Ken., native.

The 10 students of the abbreviated course, all from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., learned how to employ HF field antennae in cold weather and mountainous terrain, something that is not be feasible in the flat, desert landscape from which they come.

“In the kind of complex, compartmentalized terrain found here, Marines typically rely on over-the-horizon [communications] since line-of-sight communication is limited as far as distance is concerned,” said Faulkner. “These Marines are doing crawl, walk, run stages in this course before they return with their units in February.”

Faulkner explained in desert and flat-ground landscapes where visibility is excellent over long distances, communication details do not need to be as closely monitored as they do in terrain with extreme short-distance elevation changes.

Environmental obstacles such as trees and mountains pose relatively difficult hurdles to line-of-sight communications and limits what are called “bigger box equipment” or “mobilized terrestrial equipment” systems normally borne on vehicles and used by higher echelon command elements like regiments and battalions.

“Bigger box equipment systems are restricted to traveling only where roads go,” said Faulkner. “Operations plans [in mountainous environments] have to be looked at differently because the comm services are not as robust in man-packed operations. But man-packed operations do allow Marines to reach out and touch someone further.”

Sgt. Timothy D. Galluzi, a mountain communication course instructor at MWTC, explained why communication is vital to the mission of the Marine Corps.

“Comm is the backbone of a battalion and the lower level operations,” said the Sacramento, Calif., native. “It’s one of the six warfighting functions. You must have comm in order to fight, and this is the only place where mountainous environmental training for comm takes place in the Marine Corps.”

Sgt. James F. Hanson, a field radio operator with Headquarters and Service Company, 3/4, was a first-time student of a mountain communication course.

“I really didn’t know what to expect before I got here because I’ve never been in an environment like this,” said the North Little Rock, Ark., native. “I’ve done comm courses before in Twentynine Palms, but you really didn’t have to be very specific with it. All these different features like the trees and mountains come into play here.”

Hanson added all the Marines who went through this course will be noncommissioned officers taking charge of their units for the unit training package at MWTC in February with the experience and knowledge they gained here, they will have more success passing knowledge to their Marines when the course kicks off this month.

“Since we will need to be speaking over mountainous distances in Afghanistan, this training will prepare us immensely,” he said.

Faulkner said in light of the conflict moving into Afghanistan, training at MWTC could play a major role in unit preparedness.

“It’s very important for any Marines who deploy to Afghanistan to not only go through comm courses, but to also do our unit package for those basic skills,” said Faulkner. “You have to be brilliant in the fundamentals.”

The Marines and sailors of 3/4 will train at MWTC later this month in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan this summer.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms