Peacekeeping battalion crafts comm support

EAGLE BASE, Tuzla, Bosnia— No one has written the manual on how to provide communications support to a long-term peacekeeping mission, but the 141st Signal Battalion headquarters here at the main base camp of U.S. forces in the former Yugoslavia has enough experience to write at least a rough draft.

The 141st finds itself acting more and more as an "information utility," with missions far broader than that of providing standard tactical communications in support of the 1st Armored Division. The battalion also provides communications and computer support to foreign troops in the peacekeeping Stabilization Force.

The 141st provides the key communications links to 16 base camps, using its tactical equipment to serve nine camps and a combination of tactical gear and commercial systems installed by Sprint under a contract from the 5th Signal Command to serve the other seven [FCW, March 9].

"We're not just [engaged in] tactical signal missions," said 141st Commander Lt. Col. Dan Gersten. "We're pushing the envelope every day."

Even on the tactical side, the 141st pushes the envelope, using a 68-kilometer-long line-of-sight tactical signal "shot" to hook a base camp into the Mobile Subscriber Equipment tactical network— a range that is farther than the 30 kilometers the system was designed for, according to Chief Warrant Officer-2 Andre Dozier, a network technician in the battalion. "But at 68 kilometers, we still have a very solid shot," he said.

When neither tactical gear nor Sprint can meet its requirements, the 141st turns to innovative, low-cost commercial solutions, Dozier said. For example, Comanche Base, a short drive from Tuzla, serves as the home for helicopters supporting the 1st Armored Division and has about 30 power users who need wideband connections to the network. Dozier said the 141st found commercial wireless local-area network gear in a catalog that would provide more than 2G in throughput at a cost of $7,000. To gain the height needed to guarantee connectivity from the main base to Comanche, the 141st installed the transmitter on top of a tower installed for use by the Yugoslav air force.

Even before President Clinton announced the U.S. mission in Bosnia would become open-ended, the 141st started to develop a more permanent computer infrastructure here and at the 16 base camps, Gersten said, ordering more than 200 Intel Corp.-based Pentium-class PCs, 25 high-powered portables, 15 servers and 14 printers to serve users who rotate through Germany.

Capt. Tom Mills, who supervises the 141st automation shop, said his personnel try to do as much on-site repair of this equipment as possible. "If we can fix it here, we do it," Mills said.

This purchase program has made a big difference in the level of computing power available to users here and at the base camps, Gersten said. "When we came in, we had a lot of 286 and 386 machines.... Now we're about 85 percent Pentiums, with the rest 486s."

Gersten said some of greatest challenges for the 141st have come from missions that require supporting the peacekeeping process. For example, last year Serbs removed equipment in the microwave system hooking radio and TV networks in Bosnia together. The 141st, Gersten said, borrowed microwave equipment to repair the transmission system, ensuring that more than one message would be transmitted to the populace.

Last year, during potentially tense elections, the 141st installed receivers hooked into the radio network operated by the election monitors, who were with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Troops at the base camp could listen to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development traffic and respond quickly, if needed, to calls for help.

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