Many Marines taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom sent emails home to friends and family in the United States. However, the fact that they had internet access in the middle of the desert is often overlooked. Even more so is the fact that one job in the Marine Corps allows that sort of communication. And, Marines make it happen.
Satellite Communication Operators provide the last link in the Marine Corps chain of communication. They make up a Satellite Communication (Sat Comm) Platoon, which is generally part of a Communication Battalion. There are four Communication Battalions in the Corps currently located in California, North Carolina, Okinawa and New York.
"We're pretty much like the modem for your computer," said Cpl. Joel Still, a Satellite Communications Operator from 6th Communication Battalion in Brooklyn. "Without us, you can't really connect to the internet, or the rest of the world."
Sat Comm Marines hold the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) of 0627. They play an intricate role in the communications field. "As a member of Sat Comm, I'm responsible for the last link in the communications chain," said Sgt. Ty Meeks, 6th Comm. "I'm responsible for getting the signal (from another communication platoon) up to the bird and down to the distant end," he said.
A "bird" is how the Sat Comm Marines refer to the satellite they use, and a "distant end" is the point of location the communication ends at -usually another Sat Comm platoon in another communication battalion.
"A signal comes out of our antenna to the satellite, which is 23, 000 miles away," explains Still. "The satellite converts it and sends it back down to our distant end."
The satellite signal allows Sat Comm to provide internet access and teleconferencing for the Marines in the field. But, some of the Marines they support don't understand their capabilities. "There's not really too much you can say after you say satellite communication operator where they don't think, 'oh, that means you can get the World Series or the Super Bowl'," said Sgt. Michael Taft, 6th Comm. "No, but we can get the internet, so we can see what's going on."
However, Sat Comm Marines can't provide communication on their own. "Everyone's connected to us," said Still. The signal Sat Comm sends to the satellite is actually provided by another platoon in the battalion that acts as the next link in the communication chain. "Without the other platoons (in the battalion) we could not do our job, because our job is just the last link."
Without Sat Comm, the other platoons could set up only minimal communication. "(Information from) other platoons could only travel at a range of a hundred miles, or two hundred miles overseas, said Meeks. "We can span over one-third of the earth, so we can reach a lot farther," he said.
Sat Comm's long-distance capabilities are especially important in a combat environment. "A lot of times when we're advancing, the forward line is more than a hundred miles north of the rear party," said Meeks. "If Sat Comm was not out in the operations, then they wouldn't be able to advance more than a hundred miles before the rear party would have to advance as well."