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There I Was: "Opening up sustainable lines of communication in Iraq"

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jeffrey Kristberg
  • 6th Communications Squadron
There I was sitting in the barber chair in a small trailer-like containerized unit getting my first haircut of the deployment. Except for the location (Baghdad, Iraq), everything seemed normal until a loud boom caused the barber to look out the already opened door. Suddenly, he was gone. As he darted to the nearest bunker, a much louder boom followed with a noticeable shockwave. What was that?

Fortunately, combat skills training kicked in and I proceeded to hit the deck and follow the emergency procedures. After the "all clear" sounded, the barber, through the help of an interpreter, stated he actually saw the 107mm rocket that impacted less than 100 yards from the trailer, one of 11 that targeted the International Zone that afternoon. Ten days in Iraq and I had already experienced what indirect fire sounded and felt like. Although there have been many other instances of IDF targeting IZ, none have been as close, and for that I am thankful. I am also thankful for the wise chief master sergeant that shared his previous experiences and passed on advice that prepared me as best as possible for deployed life in Iraq.

Since stepping off the rhino, the local name for a Mine Resistant Armor Protected vehicle and primary means of ground transportation, work has been continuous and rewarding. I am assigned to United States Forces-Iraq J6 Forward, Iraqi Communications Capacity Engagement cell, with the task of standing up a communications network to support the small number of remaining forces that will conduct the Iraqi training mission. Seems easy enough, but try building it in a way it is sustainable by someone other than blue or green suitors. The military is very good at building tactical networks in practically any area of responsibility, this however, is different.

What is required here is a strategic network that can be sustained without a mass of typical theater deployed communications equipment and accompanying communications squadron or signal battalion personnel. I am proud to say, through several months of planning, and re-planning and with a combination of terrestrial fiber, satellite communications, commercial line-of-sight antennas, and equipment; the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq network is nearly complete. The task hasn't come without challenges and has definitely provided some lessons learned.

One, communication is critical. It is a fully joint work environment with all services represented. Each service has different terms for equipment and communications network architectures. You have to ensure you are spun up on the joint lingo and use it properly. I have greatly expanded my vocabulary since arrival. There is also the tactical to strategic communications path. As with almost any project or task, progress needs to be filtered up to senior leadership. Here I have had the opportunity to provide that bridge of information and learned to translate groundlevel details to strategic level information that the senior leaders can digest and act upon.

Two, teamwork is vital. There is a large mix of government civilians, contractors and military here. In order to get anything accomplished you need to work as a team. Just getting a piece of communications gear from one location to another requires the assistance of security forces, logistics, and sometimes Army aviation members and assets. No person or office can get it done alone. Not only is it a joint military team, but an interagency team as well.

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq, managed by the Department of State, is within walking distance from our little forward operating base here in Baghdad. We meet with their staff weekly to coordinate on the future of communications in Iraq. As Operation New Dawn reaches end of mission, the Department of State will be left to carry on everything that has been accomplished and to build relations with the Iraq government. In closing, I will share some wisdom passed from the Advice and Train deputy commanding general, Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, "the only thing we truly control is our attitude."

This statement puts everything into perspective for me and has helped to maintain a positive attitude throughout the remainder of the deployment. Have you ever noticed that nothing ever seems to go right for the grumpy people? I have.

Keep a positive attitude and your chances of good things happening greatly increases, be it during a deployment or everyday life at home.