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CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq - Sgt. David Slocum, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment data network specialist, helps his battalion's infantrymen troubleshoot their Enhanced Position Location Reporting System chat systems. The 30-year-old Murfreesboro, Tenn. native's unit uses EPLRS chat laptop workstations to communicate with different bases throughout the area and transmit tactical data.

Photo by Cpl Mike Escobar

Tennessee Marine, EPLRS chat system keep 1/6 connected

27 Jul 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

Chat programs like America Online and Yahoo! Instant Messengers may often be considered the stuff of teenagers, online dating, and web surfers’ entertainment. One Murfreesboro, Tenn., native and his unit here use this type of communication not to acquaint themselves with possible romantic prospects, but to wage war against insurgents in and around Fallujah. Sergeant David Slocum, a 30-year-old former computer science major at Middle Tennessee State University, currently serves as the data section chief with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. He helps fellow data Marines here troubleshoot the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System chat network, more commonly known as EPLRS chat. “The EPLRS chat system consists of a little network of laptops at the bases that get a wireless signal from the radios,” Slocum explained. “This system enables units at all levels of command in Iraq to communicate with each other.” The concept is similar to that of EPLRS’ online chat program counterparts, he added. Whereas programs like AIM and Yahoo! Chat use the Internet to communicate with one another, EPLRS chat uses radio waves to transmit data. All of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s bases of operation house radios and antennas, which Marines have traditionally used for voice communication alone. EPLRS chat, however, enables the Marines to send text, image and video data via secure, encrypted radio waves. Troops at bases miles apart from each other may chat with other units from their laptop computers, as each Marine unit in Iraq currently maintains several chat rooms which users can join to speak with them. Although the military has used less advanced versions of this system since Jan. 2003, this is the first time Slocum’s battalion has utilized EPLRS chat. “It helps us tremendously to conduct operations,” Slocum stated. “It’s a quick way to send intelligence and casualty reports, as opposed to having to call things in over the radio. Say an IED (improvised explosive device) goes off somewhere in town. We’ll know about it here right away.” Staff Sgt. Joe Hankal, the battalion’s administration chief, said he uses this system daily to send personnel accountability reports, and agreed with Slocum’s positive assessment of EPLRS chat. “It frees up manpower and saves time,” Hankal continued. “Everything is done by text, just like on instant messenger programs. When the admin shop needs to get a hold of one of the infantry companies that aren’t in Baharia, we just jump on chat and ask them for what we need, admin wise. It beats the way we’ve communicated in the past with radios, because you can actually see what each person is saying, so it prevents any misunderstandings.” Even while on the move, EPLRS chat assists unit personnel keep “in the know.” The vehicles can be equipped with a Mounted Data Automated Communication Terminal, or MDACT. These small, green tactical laptops can connect to the EPLRS network, enabling unit leaders to maintain situational awareness and manage their units while on the road. Commanders and unit personnel may also share sensitive information freely on the EPLRS network, Slocum added. This data remains secure from the enemies’ prying eyes and ears thanks to encryption data, known as crypto, he and his data Marines input into the radio waves used to transmit the information. “Crypto scrambles the data in between points A and B,” Slocum said, explaining how only the sender and recipient’s radios and computers can decode the data. Any insurgent listening in will hear only static as the message travels to its destination, he added. Slocum’s battalion and Marine units across Iraq will continue using the EPLRS chat network to coordinate their efforts in ridding the country of insurgency. “This system is great, because it provides everyone here instantaneous communication capabilities,” Slocum said. “We’ll always have radios; this just brings the data world into how we conduct operations.”