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Posts Tagged ‘tower’

Commando patch

Comm Support Unit adviser, proudly wearing the ANA Commando patch*

ANP Antenna

ANP radio antenna, supporting a District Headquarters in Wardak Province**

I’ve got a GREAT team of Coalition Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in my organization; here are three that really stood out recently:

Senior Airman Taylor is a technician working in my Operations  section, connecting NTM-A and CSTC-A.  He is responsible for the installation, operation and maintenance of the classified Coalition network (called Afghanistan Mission Network, or AMN) at Camp Eggers – 555 users, 360 computers, 25 printers, and 50 computer-based phones…growing every day.

Recently, SrA Taylor provided above-and-beyond comm support to the Joint Planning Group charged to relook the Command’s mission and way-ahead.  This has been an incredibly high-visibility effort, involving multiple meetings with LTG Caldwell, the NTM-A Commander and CSTC-A Commanding General.  SrA Taylor engineered and implemented AMN connectivity for the group despite starting with ZERO comm infrastructure in their designated meeting space.  He connected over twenty senior officers with secure comms and enabled in-depth analysis across fourteen different staff sections, allowing the group to chart the way forward for the Command.

Electronics Technician First Class Peterson works in my Afghan National Army Communications section, supporting ANA command and control.  He serves as the satellite communications trainer/adviser for the ANA Communications Support Unit (CSU).  As an adviser, ET1 Peterson helped the CSU with their first operational deployment, ever.  I’ve written about this deployment before, but the short story is until ET1 Peterson and the CSU arrived, the Commando Brigade Headquarters had only radio communications.  Only two days into the deployment, Commando leaders had video, voice, and data comms with the National Military Command Center,  allowing them to effectively respond to the 18 January insurgent attacks in Kabul.  And today, the Commandos are participating in major combat operations in and around Marjah, in central Helmand.

Additionally, ET1 Peterson provides direct support for the American Forces Network (AFN) television broadcast  system on Camp Eggers.  He helped replace cable and perform maintenance on the Camp Eggers AFN system.  In the process, he isolated and fixed an intermittent problem with AFN reception affecting our headquarters building.  These trouble prevention and troubleshooting skills earned the personal recognition of LTG Caldwell.

Last but certainly not least, Lieutenant Commander Stewart serves as the Radio Fielding Branch Chief in my Afghan National Police Comms section.  He’s driving a $10 million plan to install over 400 VHF radio repeaters throughout Afghanistan, enhancing the tactical command and control capabilities of the ANP.  He developed a strategy to use existing commercial cell phone towers, saving significant time and money compared to building towers from scratch.  LCDR Stewart is also finishing up a UHF radio system installation here in Kabul.  This is a trunked system which allows almost unlimited talk groups…which means local police, fire fighters, medical providers and other first responders in the capital can use their radios simultaneously, without stepping on each other’s voices, even during a major crisis.  He has already started operational testing; I expect the the system will soon be functioning as designed for more than 3,700 users.

Finally, LCDR Stewart has been directly responsible for working with Afghan Ministry of the Interior officers to field more than 300 vital pieces of radio equipment for Afghan Gendarmerie Force units participating in Operation Moshtarak near Marjah.  Afghan and Coalition forces are currently clearing the area of insurgents; LCDR Stewart’s radios will help Afghan police forces hold the line against an insurgent return, providing the Afghan government time and space to build capability within the area.

Bottom line:  I offer SrA Taylor, ET1 Peterson, and LCDR Stewart as shining examples of the best qualities of this Command – agile and adaptive, culturally respectful, and innovative.  It is my pleasure and my honor to serve with them here.

* Photo by ET1 David Peterson.

** Photo by ITC Greg Laskowski.

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TV Hill

TV Hill, seen from the Ministry of Defense Headquarters

Water run

Afghan boy, going on a water run. TV Hill housing in the back

Mount Asma-i, known by Afghans and Coalition members alike as  TV Hill, is a high mountain in the middle of Kabul.   For two reasons, it’s covered with a prickly blanket of antenna towers, supporting both commercial and governmental communications.  First, TV Hill has a commanding view of the city, which allows a clear line-of-sight between an antenna on the mountain and a receiver almost anywhere in Kabul.  Second, it has relatively easy ridge line access, which means the people and equipment needed to construct and maintain the towers, antennas, communications gear, and–most importantly–electrical equipment, can actually get there.

We’ve been working with the Ministry of the Interior for months now to bring a new UHF radio capability on line for Kabul, beating down one or two technical issues (e.g., transmission cable quality), and a horde of policy and process issues (e.g., power, frequency approval, siting, US export policies, encryption capability).  In the process, we’ve had a few opportunities to travel to the transmission site on TV Hill.  It’s an exciting drive…not because of the insurgent threat, but because of gravity.  From the bottom, it’s hard to appreciate how narrow and winding the road is, how steep the drop-offs are, and how many pedestrians share the road.  It’s DEFINITELY a slow and careful convoy.

Afghans live almost all the way to the top…anywhere it’s flat enough to build.  And they live there without easy access to water.  That’s not a problem for most of Kabul, where public hand-pumps are common.  But hauling water from the city pumps at the bottom of the hill, all the way up?  Now THAT’S an afternoon chore!

Bottom line:  In a previous post, I pointed out that towers matter.  Well, towers on the high ground REALLY matter.

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There's not much copper or fiber optic cable here; cell and microwave dominate

The highest microwave site in Afghanistan...and maybe the world*

Infrastructure in Afghanistan is a Big Deal, mostly because there’s just not that much of it.  It’s hard, at first, to even imagine how bad the roads are, how precious electricity and mostly-clean water are, and how primitive much of the housing is.  But I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how far the Afghan comm infrastructure has come.

Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a TREMENDOUS ways yet to go.  But the Afghans have (relatively) robust microwave networks crisscrossing the country, fiber optic cable is being laid at a furious rate, and the country has gone from exactly zero cell phone coverage to over 10 million subscribers in less than 7 years.  Pretty amazing.

It’s not easy to put the towers up, either.  Afghanistan is one of the highest and most mountainous countries in the world, so there’s a VERY short construction season.  Further, the contractors involved have to work through the same logistics challenges faced by the Afghan National Security Forces and Coalition security forces.

And once a site’s up, it’s hard to keep it running.   Insurgent forces will of course sometimes target towers carrying police or military comms.  But the Forces of Chaos are an even bigger threat.  Heavy snow and winds will peal antennas from tower structures, screw up power lines and solar panels, and sometimes even topple the towers themselves.  Useful items like solar panels, batteries, and cables will go walk-about.  And even the most reliable electronic components fail…usually at the worst possible moment.

Bottom line: Towers, and the signals they bring to even the farthest reaches of Afghanistan, matter.

* Photo by Afghan Wireless Communications Company, from their photo gallery

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