Network readiness on the road to Europe

3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division stages their vehicles after officially crossing into Poland from Germany after conducting a three-day convoy, Jan. 12, for their nine-month deployment training alongside multinational partners. 3-4 ABCT's arrival marks the start of back-to-back rotations of armored brigades in Europe as part of Atlantic Resolve. | Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Tarr.

In mid January, the first elements of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (Iron Brigade), 4th Infantry Division rolled into Zagan, Poland, as part of the latest U.S Army deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. This complex deployment would not have been possible without a strong updated communications network to ensure connectivity and communications across the European landscape in which elements of the Iron Brigade will operate over the course of their nine-month deployment.

In total, the deployment encompassed the movement of more than 3,500 personnel and more than 2,000 vehicles, trailers and support equipment to be used in training exercises with European partners across the region.

With this myriad of items, many would see as a logistician’s nightmare, but civilian personnel of the U. S. Army Material Command’s Communications-Electronics Command, or CECOM, assisted to ensure those vehicle platforms received the latest network capability integration and that Soldiers who operate the network received the most up-to-date training available prior to their deployment.

The continental United States pre-deployment, network-related logistics effort was spearheaded by a team of more than 20 personnel which aided in fielding, training and logistical operations prior to the Iron Brigade’s deployment. Led by CECOM Trail Boss Tony Parsons, it included Digital Service Engineers, or DSEs, Logistics Assistance Representatives, known as LARS, Field Support Representatives, or FSRs, and CECOM civilians from Tobyhanna Army Depot.

“This was a collective effort by CECOM,” Parsons said. “Not only was this a monumental effort to ensure our Soldiers had the right equipment and the equipment they needed, but the effort went Herculean given some ‘challenges’ we had along the way in making sure their network worked.”

The 3/4 ID is a heavy brigade combat team, meaning the team focused heavily on equipping the 700 plus wheeled vehicles and about 110 armored vehicles with necessary communications equipment and software packages needed to operate in Eastern Europe. In addition, there was the need to update command post-based mission command systems across the brigade. Mission command systems are software and hardware that commanders use to gather, analyze and disseminate information to maintain and guide operations. To ready the brigade, the CECOM team focus was split between these two key challenge areas.

Complications to the necessary upgrades seemed to exist at every turn as Parsons and the team devoted direct attention impending deployment of the Iron Brigade. Prior to deployment, one important issue emerged, the network for the Iron Brigade was configured to support operations in CONUS, not Eastern Europe. Maps were different. Software was different. Frequencies were different. Communications security, or COMSEC needs were different. The CECOM team had to act quickly to ready the network to support European operations. According to Parsons, lessons learned from NTC and network reconfiguration had to be completed in that four-week window–it is typically a six- to eight-week job.

“The network has to be reliable, otherwise, the infantry can’t do its work,” Parsons explained. “The team could not work the configuration issues at NTC, so we had to bring the equipment to home station for integration and network readiness checks. We knew the crunch and planned for it.”

In addition to vehicle hardware needs, a parallel effort was ongoing to upgrade command post mission command systems. The CECOM team had to make sure all mission command systems were ready, ensure they were IAVA compliant, ensure functionality, and confirm their ability to transmit the proper messages needed in Europe. Each piece needed tracking, upgrade documentation and logistics to keep the brigade leadership up-to-date on progress.

Logistics work did not end with the Iron Brigade’s embarkation. Using lessons learned from previous brigade deployments to Europe, CECOM logisticians understood “speed of assembly” at the port of embarkation. Network planning was in advance prior to 3/4 ID arrival in Bremerhaven where a CECOM Forward Element- Europe group moved quickly and identified, planned and executed key assembly tasks for the equipment arriving at the port. This ensured network integration, stand up and readiness to enable the unit to quickly roll out of port and into the European heartland. CECOM LARs already integrated with elements of the brigade’s Logistics and Support Team and readied 67 vehicles to road march almost 400 miles to their end point in Zagan, Poland. Turnaround time from the ship landing to convoy movement was 48 hours.

Stateside, Parsons and his team are now working across Army groups to develop a standardization for network-related logistics activities to support future deployments based on the 3/4 ID deployment.

“This is a work in progress, but we are developing a plan on how to do it right,” Parsons said. “Now, the next unit scheduled to deploy is the beneficiary of our lessons learned and we are already working with them.”

By Greg Mahall, Communications-Electronics Command