13th MEU (SOC) takes communications to 'edge' with JTF Enabler

25 Jun 2005 | Cpl. Andy Hurt

In an ongoing effort to increase forward-deployed communications capabilities, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) reestablished it’s “Joint Task Force Enabler” section when the Major Subordinate Elements “chopped” to the unit in January.

The JTFE detachment is a highly specialized section of Marines from different reaches of the communications field designated to accomplishing one task: providing commanders and Marines in the field with constant working communications such as e-mail and telecommunications. JTFE Marines work around the clock to ensure this capability, enabling MEU units in one location to remain in constant contact with higher headquarters and subordinate and adjacent elements elsewhere.

“The JTFE (detachment) should support the Forward Command Element and MEU commander on every exercise and mission,” according to 1st Lt. Michael Chiesl, the Officer-in-Charge of the unit.

When speaking of the JTFE, a plethora of acronyms are engaged. In an attempt to sort out the verbal madness, Chiesel took time to explain the network in layman’s terms.

When the Forward Command Element hits the ground in foreign territory, the JTFE detachment goes to work immediately. Laying wire and building satellite dishes and data networks, JTFE Marines also submit a request to the MEU's higher headquarters for communication bandwidth. Bandwidth is a designated amount of space on a frequency dedicated to the requesting unit.

Once a communication link is established, usually ship-to-shore-to-command group, information can be transmitted at a real-time rate. Internet, radio and teleconferencing can all be conducted simultaneously on the requested bandwidth, providing a critical system of information exchange.

The network has become more prominent in modern warfare, due to the ability to encrypt secret information and detect weak links and message interception. Building this network in less than two hours is a primary goal.

“Our fastest time is one hour and thirty-eight minutes,” said Sgt. Durrand D. Lardge, the 13th MEU S-6 Communications Chief and sattelite communications (SatCom) specialist. “That’s pretty fast.”

Lardge is preparing for his third expeditionary deployment with a JTFE, and says there is something special about his current project. He explained the complex structure of a JTFE staff, citing five different sections, satellite communications experts, wire technicians, antennae techs, switchboard operators and more.

As complex as the unit structure can be, the key element of the success of a JTFE, said Lardge, is respect.

“We may have a wire guy running cables, and I’m setting up my (SatCom) van, and I’ll finish first. But I’m not just going to sit there and say ‘I’m up,’” said Lardge. “We’re not ‘up’ until everybody is up, and that’s what separates us from everybody else.”

Instilling the spirit of “respect for the other sections” in junior Marines is a priority for the JTFE, said Lardge.

“Everybody’s job is equal. We try and preach ‘if Sgt. Lardge was taken out tomorrow, would my two operators be able to run my task without me?’ The answer is yes.”

Lardge added that the work isn’t finished after the network is established. JTFE personnel have to constantly stay locked on to the progress of the network, a task requiring 24-hour duty shifts, everyday for as long as JTFE services are required.

“Somebody is always up, and somebody is always working,” explained Lardge.

Support from the 13th MEU Command is also playing a key role in the success of the JTFE, said Lardge.

“Major (Wendy) Garrity (S-6 OIC) and Col. (J.K) La Vine (13th MEU Commanding Officer) have supported us 100 percent,” began Lardge. “Any gear we need, we’ve gotten. We’ve got new Hummvees, data equipment … The MEU has been really, really supportive. We are way ‘over the edge’ right now,” he concluded in a street-slang manner.

While the pre-deployment work-up cycle draws to an end as the Special Operations Capable Exercise wound down, Marines like Chiesl, Lardge and the entire JTFE crew are getting anxious to get out in the world and show off their capabilities. Momentum gained throughout the six-month training cycle has established a positive outlook on real-world operations. Lardge, known for his humor and flair for trash talk, spoke on behalf of the JTFE and the MEU when he took on a conservative expression and simply stated, “We’re rolling right now, and we’re ready.”

For more information about the JTFE, and the Warriors of the "Fighting 13th" Marine Expedtionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), visit the unit's Web site at www.usmc.mil/13thmeu.
13th Marine Expeditionary Unit