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The 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade employs an operational Capability Set 3, or CAPSET 3, as part of Exercise African Lion 14, March 26 – April 4, 2014. Variations of the CAPSET include modular tents used to house expeditionary operations centers and additional workspace for deployed forces. Exercise African Lion is an annually scheduled, multi-lateral and combined-joint exercise between the Kingdom of Morocco, the U.S. and other partner nations, designed to strengthen relationships in the region by increasing understanding of each nation’s military capabilities.

Photo by Cpl. Mel Johnson

Combat communicators expeditiously network Exercise African Lion 14

2 Apr 2014 | Sgt. Tatum Vayavananda 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade

Cable-lined paths plugged into modular tents, garnished by satellite dishes are synched with the constant hum of generators; indicators of a fully-capable network of internet, phone and radio access complimented by their classified counterparts. This is the hub that connects the miles-apart components of Exercise African Lion 14, the annually-scheduled, multilateral event in the Kingdom of Morocco executed from March 27- April 5.

A foundation of operating in every clime and place, a major capacity of the Marine Corps’ expeditionary roots, is the integration of the combat communications to provide vital “talk” for commanders to control the battle space.

“Without our communications, this exercise wouldn’t be able to function as it is now,” said 1st Lt. Mark J. Semancik, a Joint Communications Control Center watch officer.

Theater-deployed communicators are composed of Marines from 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, 8th Communications Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment and airmen from the Air Force 55th Combat Communications Squadron. The exercise will bring more than 150 Royal Moroccan Armed Forces servicemembers together with more than 350 Marines, airmen, soldiers and sailors to engage in partner-capacity building.

“For everyone else this is a training exercise, but for us this is the exact thing we’re going to do if we had a real-life situation,” added Semancik.

Truly operating with the “first-in, last-out” mantra, these assets are first to enter the battle space, able to set up elaborate communications architectures with minor or nonexistent permanent infrastructure.

“We’re one of the first boots on the deck… within another 48 hours, we were able to push all the services out with our own system,” said Semancik. “We bring everything with us, we do it all expeditionary; we can go in the middle of the desert or we can go in the middle of the jungle if needed.”

The Rapid Response Communications Kit gives an added advantage of enabling communications in only an hour’s time.

“Within an hour they can have phones, E-mail and [video teleconferencing] wherever the general wants to be,” said Semancik.

These variants in the communications toolkit can provide versatility when expeditionary forces are deployed to the unknown.

“You get there, you have boots on the deck; you’re talking on the single-channel radio systems you have; within an hour, with the Rapid Response Communications Kit, the general can get [classified networks] and [video teleconferencing]… so right away, he can get into the network and command and control that way instead of using radios,” added the Pittsburg, Penn., native.

A rapidly-established communication capability like this is integral to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade capacity to integrate with partner-nation militaries and respond to contingencies if it were to deploy in support of the U.S. Africa Commander with a scalable, joint-task force of U.S. Marine and fellow service components.

“It’s expeditionary and it’s important because it’s what the commander needs to control the battle space,” said Semancik.

As a backbone of the exercise, the Joint Communications Control Center runs on electrical power and has the support of “air power”, as the 55th Combatant Communication Squadron, deployed from Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, supplements operational and tactical level communications capabilities to the Marines.

“We’re up in 48 hours and that’s a requirement for us,” said Senior Master Sgt. Bart P. Sawyer, the communications chief with the 55th CCS.

Capabilities include NIPRNet, the Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network that is used to exchange sensitive but unclassified information and provide public internet access, it’s classified counterpart, SIPRNet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), voice and video teleconferencing, satellite communications, and single-channel radio communications. The network can support up to 3,000 users.

“That’s the big piece; to have this kind of capability with E-mail, internet, video teleconferencing and voice, that’s the type of things you don’t usually get in 48 hours,” said Sawyer.

The network and communications access is vital for all aspects of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa-led African Lion 14, to include the command-post exercise, an intelligence capacity building workshop, and stability operations, located miles away in Tifnit.

Part of the execution also enables military communicators from different services the opportunity to work together in a joint environment.

“We can understand what we can provide, how we can work together, how we can meet the Marine comm’ and the Air Force comm’ to meet the mission,” said Sawyer. “It’s that piece that if we need to come in for a natural disaster or deploy to another country, it’s a good idea to be able to do that, have the relationships built so you have the trust.”

Exercises like African Lion 14, one of the biggest of its kind on the continent of Africa, plays a vital role in sharing capacity, knowledge and experiences to planning processes and operational tactics for potential real-world events.

“It’s good to work with the Moroccans, establishing joint communications with different countries and showing them what we’re capable of doing,” said Cpl. William A. Medina, a wireman with 8th Communications Bn.

“We’re practicing for what would happen in a real-life situation; having communications up without interruptions, being able to do this anywhere in the world sets us up for a better operation and better proficiency next time,” said Medina.

Providing critical, reliable communications assets during wartime and contingency operations or humanitarian missions might happen in a myriad of austere conditions. Being able to access partner nations during these engagements can not only build proficiency but also familiarity when execution means failure is not a course of action.

“This is very important because when we go into a live environment where it’s more serious than now and we have no system of working together and we have to build proficiency then… That’s hard to do when it’s the first time you’re getting with those other countries,” said Medina. “If you don’t work with them now, later on, you’re stuck.”