AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- Since the late 1980s people have been fascinated with the power of a new invention that can send information at the speed of light using only cable as thick as a pencil.
Marine Wing Communication Squadron 38 arrived in Iraq with a plan to connect more than 20 miles of fiber-optic cable to assist the Marines and Sailors supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
Master Sgt. Richard E. Felton, MWCS-38 maintenance chief, and his Marines have been tasked with installing and maintaining all the cable that will be used. Felton said one challenge his Marines face is the extent of the work at hand.
"We are pretty much installing all the fiber-optic cable for the entire Third Marine Aircraft Wing," said the 39-year-old Detroit native. "We will also be providing all the phone and data connectivity to all the forward arming and refueling points and the forward operating bases."
According to Felton, the cables they use come in large rolls, approximately 1,000 meters long.
"Once we are finished with all the (forward arming refueling points) and (forward observation points), we could have upwards of 20 miles of cable laid," he said.
Another responsibility of MWCS-38 is ensuring the cable is laid properly and not damaged in the process.
"This cable is made (of) glass," said Felton. "We try to keep it from breaking as much as possible. We place cable protectors across the streets to keep vehicles from running over it. We do this because it is safer and easier than running the cable along power lines."
Felton continued by saying that running the cable overhead is dangerous and sometimes costly.
"We do not run it overhead because it can be snapped from many different factors," he said. "The most common (factor) is the cable is not high enough and can be hit by large vehicles such as the new seven-ton tactical truck or cranes."
One Marine with MWCS-38, Lance Cpl. Andrew P. Foote, switchboard operator and wireman, has been part of the job here and knows just how hard the work is.
"It is really time consuming to put the wire on poles," said the 20-year-old The Dalles, Ore., native. "When we put the cable in and on the ground, we throw one end over our shoulder and walk with it, laying the cable down as we go. When we put it in the air, we have to climb the poles, consider what the cable weighs and then secure it to the pole and ensure it does not sag."
Another Marine with the communication squadron, Lance Cpl. Wade A. Klinetobe, also a wireman, was in Iraq last year and knows how hard the work is but knows it needs to be done.
"We (sometimes) work 21-hour days," said the Fortuna, Calif., native. "We take a three hour nap, get up at all hours of the night on trouble calls and are still able to function well the next day."
As far as Foote is concerned, the Marines of MWCS-38 try to keep repair jobs to a minimum and accidents even more of a rare occurrence.
"An accident or broken cable can cost us thousands of dollars in cable and loss of manpower," Foote said. "We cannot afford to lose one of our wiremen because our job is hard enough as it is, so we make safety a (high) priority daily."
Felton said there is a difference between his Marines accomplishing the mission and contractors being hired to rebuild the fiber-optic infrastructure.
"We are building a tactical infrastructure," he said. "When we leave this area all the cable comes with us."