AR RAMADI, Iraq -- In the age of information, emerging technology is ever more present in the military’s combat theater. But sometimes it’s old tech that keeps the tempo high – especially for Marines of Radio Platoon, Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division where Sgt. Janna Klehm works.
Klehm, a 20-year-old field radio operator from Brenham, Texas, and her platoon of approximately 40 Marines are responsible for the exchange of information between units outside the camp’s wire and the command post here. Their jobs aren’t just limited to speaking over a radio handset though. These Marines are integrated within many of the units working out of Camp Blue Diamond.
The platoon has a main cell that monitors all radio traffic and feeds it to the combat operations center. The transmissions come from all over the division’s area of responsibility in the Al Anbar Province. In turn, the Marines, sailors and soldiers who work in the COC can use the information to shape their battle plans.
“Radio platoon is just a small piece of the communications pie,” said Klehm, a 2002 Brenham High School graduate. “But we’re one of the most needed,” she added.
Her Marines are scattered throughout the camp filling jobs as radio operators for convoys that pick up personnel and equipment from other bases. The journeys take them along dangerous highways often lined with improvised explosive devices and insurgent attackers.
Some of the Marines are trained to venture into that dangerous territory to reestablish communications should the computer network shut down. These Marines are part of a subunit of the platoon simply called the ‘Forward.’ It is comprised of radio operators who set up a provisional communications section wherever the commander needs it on the battlefield.
It may be dangerous, but her Marines are constantly learning. Some of them have even been through combat situations in the past, which makes her unit well suited for the job.
“The MOS (military occupational specialty) has slightly evolved recently,” said Klehm. “We use a system that is half radio, half computer to retrieve and send information – rather than the traditional VHF or UHF radio transmissions that are often fuzzy and slow to use.
“Email is faster and more efficient – and that seems to be where everything is going.”
Despite the need for quickness and efficiency, Klehm believes that radios are the foundation for battlefield communications. When email is out of commission, radios are always operable, according to Klehm.
“Even when people are sleeping, the radios are always up,” said Klehm. “And Marines are always with those radios, whether they’re on a convoy, a quick reaction force or any other company operating from here.”
With the mix of new and old technology, the Marines have been recently cross-training with their counterparts in the data sections, who manage the computer network that connects the entire division.
“We naturally become proficient in different MOSs within the communications field as we work together,” said Klehm. “We also extend that opportunity to all Marines here with weekly classes teaching radio operation. Email is great, but radios are the base for all of the division’s lines of communication.”