Since the soldiers of the 57th Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, deployed to Afghanistan in January, they have adapted and flowed with a continually changing work environment, said leaders of the battalion.
“Cooks have become carpenters, logisticians have become construction workers, and communicators have become network engineers as units move, downsize or leave each of their forward operating bases,” Maj. Katie Blue, battalion operations officer, said in an email. “During a period of heavy transition and retrograde across Afghanistan, our soldiers have acted as good stewards of the Army’s resources by ensuring that unused equipment is re-purposed across Afghanistan.”
Before deployment the unit underwent extensive cross-training to prepare soldiers to provide communication services to a variety of forces in Afghanistan.
The battalion has two main missions, wrote Lt. Col. Darlene Straub and Command Sgt. Maj. Maurice Greening, battalion command team. The primary mission is to provide communications support on 17 forward operating bases.
“In some locations, our soldiers were the only communications providers and in other locations, they augmented a larger team to ensure communications capabilities were available at all times,” they said.
Straub said she is proud of how soldiers adapted to each base.
“Every (base) has a slightly different mission, and regardless of the training our soldiers have received, they jumped right in, integrated themselves with the units they were supporting, and they made a difference,” she said. “I think just the overall attitude and willingness of our soldiers serving is what makes me proud.”
The battalion’s network management technician, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Albert J. Rapp described their main mission as the tactical equivalent of Time Warner Cable.
“Everyone requires phone and Internet to complete their mission. In some locations we also provide the television service,” he said. “Unlike Time Warner Cable, our soldiers don’t get the option of telling the customer that they will be there somewhere between 9 and 5 and to expect a call an hour before they show up. The pace is a lot faster and the support requirement higher due to the nature of the mission.”
The secondary mission is conducting retrograde of equipment left in Afghanistan after 14 years of war come to a close.
“We have been extremely busy correctly processing mainly communications equipment and turning it in for final disposition (being destroyed because it is out of date or no longer usable) or shipping the equipment elsewhere so it can be utilized appropriately,” the command team said.
The retrograde mission is also impacted by the politics surrounding America’s future relationship with Afghanistan. Leaders in Afghanistan have yet to sign an agreement to allow international forces to continue to provide support for the country as its own security forces are built.
“We have planned for several courses of action based on the outcomes and we all must maintain flexibility and adaptability in this period of many unknowns,” Blue said. “Each and every day something changes and we must react.”
The battalion is at the halfway point of its deployment, and the command team said it is looking forward to bringing troops home later this year.
“I am proud of the team and the work they have done thus far but I will be extremely proud and happy when they are all home safe and sound with their loved ones,” Straub said.