04 August 2010

Convoy Communications 2.0

The bus ride from the middle of Iowa to Camp Shelby apparently takes about 16 hours, judging by this week's "radio traffic" on Facebook. The brigade has been moving out, piece by piece, unit by unit, on a nearly daily schedule.

Watching the Facebook news feeds has been a little like eavesdropping on the radio, with my fellow soldiers conversing between buses. Sometimes, they're even on the same bus.

Messages such as "I'm so glad that dog-and-pony send-off ceremony is over" to "Welcome to Camp Shelby, where there is no gravity, but everything sucks," clued me in to where people are on the map. Time between "dog-and-pony" to "Camp Shelby" message? Approximately 16 hours.

When I first learned how to do stateside convoy operations, we maintained communications via our FM radios. We were lucky to get a few miles out of them, from front of our first serial (or "stick) of vehicles, to the middle of our convoy. To talk from the front to the rear of our entire battalion, we'd have to relay messages, like a big game of tactical "telephone."

"Bravo-Tree-Six, THIS IS Bravo-Four-One. I have contact with Bravo-Two-Four. I will relay your message, OVER."

"ROGER, Bravo-Four-One, THIS Bravo-Tree-Six. What is Bravo-Two-Four's location and rate-of-march, OVER?"

And so on.

It helped pass the time, I guess. And the miles.

Some 20 years ago, on my first convoy move, our battalion had three sticks moving eastbound through my old stomping grounds in Eastern Iowa. There is/was a confusing split between Interstates 74 and 80. The unit was supposed to stay on Interstate 80.

Suddenly, some convoy-leading lieutenant--yes, I still remember his name; no, I'm not going to tell it right now--gets on the horn. His message over the radio sounds like something out of an old M.A.S.H. TV episode: "My location is ... I am passing a Red Lobster ... right ... NOW!"

As most of the radio net was laughing at the young officer's inappropriate choice of landmarks--identifying a mile marker or intersection would have been more useful--I realized something else. For many years, I lived in this particularly part of Eastern Iowa, and I knew this:

There is no Red Lobster located on Interstate 80.

The lieutenant, in other words, was mis-oriented and headed south, both figuratively and literally.

I tell that story not only because is sounds like Maj. Frank Burns fiasco, but because those days are pretty much over. During our travel up to Camp Ripley, Minn., for this year's Annual Training, most of our vehicles did not have FM radios installed. Instead, our company commander and his lieutenants tried to communicate via civilian civilian cell phones, because that's all they had. The problem was, no phone is loud enough to hear or talk over the noise of a Humvee engine. And putting your phone on "vibrate" doesn't work, either, because--believe me--the Humvee vibrates way more than your phone.

Downrange and in country, most of our vehicles will have Blue Force Tracker (B.F.T.) devices installed. We use a dismounted BFT device in the Tactical Operations Center ("TOC") in order to track the whereabouts of each vehicle in near-real-time. The position of each BFT-capable vehicle updates via Global Positioning System (G.P.S.) refreshes every few minutes, and is displayed on a map as a little blue dot or square. In Army terms, "Blue Force" is friendly; "Red Force" is bad guys.

We can also use BFT to text-message among vehicles and the TOC. It's great technology: Great for putting your finger on nearly everyone's location on the battlefield. Great for reaching out and touching people: "Hey, you're turning your convoy the wrong way!"

Then again, troops using Blue Force Tracker will never land a war story like the "Great Red Lobster Turnaround."


  1. Many years ago when I was in a combat engineer company, we had to convoy from Nor Cal to Ft Irwin-- a 2 day convoy. We had a brand new dumbass 2LT who loved to talk on the FM. He was talking so much, that nobody else could get on the net when they really needed to. So at the 2nd rest stop (that half the convoy missed because dumbass was talking) I said: "LT, you know those PRC77s only have so much squelch in them. If you use it all up, nobody can talk anymore until it gets re-loaded."
    He shut up after that.

  2. Doesn't the rear guard vehicle always carry a couple cans of squelch in them? LOL! BTW Roller Dude... I enjoyed your music on your blog site but MAgic Carpet Ride is by Steppenwolf, not Led Zeppelin. And I love Highway PAtrol by Junior Brown! PDV

  3. @ CI-Roller Dude: I giggled like a school girl when I read your "Operation Squelch the LT" story! Sometimes, they can't help themselves. One night watch in the TOC, I was on the opposite end of an FM conversation with a female lieutenant. She was so tired, she forgot how to end the radio transaction; kept saying "OVER" and not "OUT." The conversation kept bouncing back and forth, until she finally said "that is all I have to say about that, OVER."

    Her callsign was Gump (as in Forrest) for the rest of that Annual Training.

  4. Keep it updated, very interesting:)


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