Signal unit hits highway for Salina FTX 

12/1/2011 

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Troth, Public Affairs

Signal Soldiers from Fort Riley took to the highway for a field training exercise at Salina’s Great Plains Joint Training Center.

Company C, 601st Aviation Support Battalion, took advantage of Salina’s large training area to get the influx of new Soldiers they have received since returning from Iraq in March up to speed.

“We came back from the deployment and we got a huge turnover of personnel. We got a lot of new people coming in and we have a lot of good NCOs who are getting ready to (change duty stations),” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Gaines, the Crusader company first sergeant. “Before they leave I wanted to make sure we captured their knowledge and experience and passed that down to our young Soldiers.”

That experience began even before the company rolled out of their motor pool. The company’s leadership ensured that the new Crusaders were involved with the movement, from getting their equipment and supplies ready. They were also the drivers for the 70-mile convoy from Fort Riley to the training area.

“The experience in preparing for and being in the convoy, as well as getting all the equipment here was huge,” said Sgt. Christopher Rimer, who is scheduled to leave the company this spring.

Because most of the new Soldiers to the company are also new to the Army, they had just finished the military driving course and were recently licensed to drive military vehicles.

“This gave them some real road training, where they had to maintain their distance (between vehicles) and use proper communication procedures over the radio,” said Gaines.

“It was a lot different, a lot slower than I am used to,” said Pfc. Robert Citarella, who joined the unit 2 months ago.  “I was a little nervous about doing my first convoy, I wasn’t sure how everything would work, and how it would play. But we had great leadership and great NCOs that kept us informed of what to expect and what was going to happen. “

For Citarella and the other new drivers their training did not end when they arrived at their field site. The unit took advantage of the isolated location to train their Soldiers on driving with night vision goggles.

During their first night in the field the Soldiers received a class on wearing the goggles. This portion of the training had the Soldiers get used to the night vision goggles before getting behind the wheel.

“We walked around to get used to them and see how they work and how they change depth perception,” said Citarella. “We also used them with the Humvee to see what the blackout lights looked like.”

The next night the Crusaders combined the NVGs with their driving training and had a night convoy with no headlights while driving on the back roads of the training area.

“It was definitely something that I had never done before,” Citarella said. “It completely throws you off and you have to remember that what is in front of you might be closer than you think.”

While the night driving helped to increase their tactical proficiency, the main purpose of the field exercise was the technical aspect of their jobs.

“We have a lot of Soldiers with no experience on our equipment,” said Rimer, a member of the Joint Network Node Platoon, which is responsible for providing voice and data communications for the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division . “So we are pulling out all our equipment and setting it up, making sure everyone knows how it operates and how to use it.

While the JNN platoon is responsible for many miles of computer and phone lines the aviation brigade requires, the company is responsible for all communications within the brigade as well as communications with the ground forces the brigade supports.

Part of staying connected falls on the Retransmission (or RETRANS) Platoon, who set up their antennas and work as relay stations.

“We are able to do a lot more retrans out here,” said Citarella. “We have a lot of different types of scenarios we can do with setting up our antennae, on hill tops or in a dried up pond. The soil will be a lot looser or tougher, which is a factor when driving stakes or pulling them out. We are getting some very good training out here.

The different terrain they are able to utilize during their time in Salina was one factor the Great Plains Joint Training Center offered the signal Soldiers, another was its distance from Fort Riley.

“We are here in an environment by ourselves and it gives us the opportunity to focus on whatever mission we have,” said Staff Sgt. John Gomez. “We have 100 percent attention of our Soldiers with no distractions, no taskings, no appointments”

Having the training area to themselves also meant that they weren’t actually supporting another unit with communications. This took some of the stress off the new Soldiers who were in the field for the first time.

“This training is hands on and we have experienced personnel to walk them through it step by step, without any pressure of having to get stuff done right the first time,” Gomez said. “They can afford to make as many mistakes as they can and learn from those mistakes.”