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Cpl. Michael A. Kenny and Cpl. Barry T. Albious, radio operators with Marine Wing Commnication Squadron 38, set up the PRC-117 to perform an operations check recently. The Satellite Communication team performs these operations check for proficiency when they are called upon.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Manuel F. Guerrero

Can you hear me now. SATCOM says loud, clear

27 Mar 2009 | Lance Cpl. Manuel F. Guerrero

When vital, confidential information needs to be transferred from one point to another in a timely manner there is only one team of Marines to call: Marine Wing Communication Squadron 38’s Radio Satellite Communication Team.

The team’s mission is to provide long range, secure communications for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

“As part of MWCS-38, we provide the Marine Aircraft Wing with long-haul communications,” said Sgt. Anthony A. Cardinal, a satellite radio communication supervisor for the squadron.

Before being a member of the squadron’s SATCOM team, Marines have to attain the military occupational specialty of 0621.

They attend the Field Radio Operators’ Course as part of the Marine Corps’ Communications Electronics School at Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twenty-Nine Palms to learn how to be a radio operator, and demonstrate high proficiency in their job.

Only standout members can become part of the team.

“Marines that demonstrate high proficiency, conduct, flexibility and attitude are considered for the position,” said Cardinal. “The Marine must be able to link to a satellite faster than other radio operators.”

“We learn all forms of radio propagation from standard to very-high frequency and ultra-high frequency equipment, that can transmit ten to 20 miles, and some more advanced radio waves that can reach satellites and transmit across a country,” added Cardinal. “We also learn how to construct our own antennas in a field-expedient manner and transmit long- range, high frequency waves that can bounce off the atmosphere.”

After the course, they are designated as field radio operators. Any member can step in and fill each others’ role.

“Every Marine is proficient with the job; we work together to get the mission done,” said Sgt. Bryce A. Johnstone, a radio supervisor with the squadron.

The equipment varies, but each member knows how to use it.

“We have many different types of radio equipment, antennas and vehicle configurations,” said Cardinal. “Some of them are simple and come with few parts and some have countless pieces.”

The radio the team uses most is the PRC-117F (Portable Radio Communication 117) because it is capable of very high frequency, ultra high frequency, satellite communication and demand assigned multiple access communication, explained Cardinal.

The PRC-117F has “pings” that tell the Marines it’s signal strength, letting them know if they must change it’s elevation or azimuth to get a better signal.

While in the field, the team provides communication support from base to base.

“In the event we were moving out to a forward position, be it a forward operating base, forward arming and refueling point or just another base in general where we have no secure tactical communications, one of our radio operators would go in first and be the sole link between the main site and the distant site, allowing commanders to communicate with their forward sections,” said Cardinal.

These mobile Marines can not only provide communication in the field, they can also provide a communication link in the skies on a CH-53E “Super Stallion.”

“If the conditions are right and the equipment is there, we don’t have to wait, and we can communicate while in the air,” said Cardinal. “Say we were flying out to a new spot on the map, we could essentially eliminate the need for someone on the ground to relay our radio traffic.”

The team is always ready and on-call at all times for whenever the 3rd MAW needs a vital communication link.


3rd Marine Aircraft Wing