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Pfc. J.P. Lawrence, Multi-National Division-South
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA – 12.08.2009 Think about your last email.
You typed it, clicked send, and then, like magic; it appeared in your boss's inbox.
But have you ever thought about how this happens?
The Soldiers of the Network Support Co. know. It's their job to provide secured and unsecured Internet as well as phone service for the 34th "Red Bull" Inf. Div. deployed at COB Basra.
Equal parts mechanics, network operators, and carpenters, these Soldiers work around the clock to ensure that Soldiers and their commanders can communicate effectively on today's battlefield.
"We provide communication so [Soldiers] can talk to the commanders and senior officers and know what to do and what's going on," said Spc. Lindsay Fox, a Burnsville, Minn., native and satellite transmission operator with the 34th Inf. Div.
NSC Soldiers work "so people can call home and each other for morale and business."
The Soldiers of the NSC spend their days near a farm of satellites and humvees. Solar netting is everywhere. The low and constant gurgle of diesel generators is punctuated by the occasional whine of a power drill. Soldiers check routers and switches and make sure that the machinery is running at optimal temperature. It's a life of constant vigilance and maintenance.
"I come into work; I talk to the people on the shift before, make sure everything is running well, do my daily check up on the vehicles and generators and the other equipment inside the shelter, and continue monitoring from there," said Spc. Tanner Winter, an Eyota, Minn., native with the 34th Inf. Div.
Winter operates and maintains the Joint Node Network System, one of the NSC's most important communication tools. Installed in the rear of a humvee, the JNN, like a 21st century switchboard, directs all Internet and phone communication for the Red Bulls.
"It has a bunch of networking equipment in it, so it basically distributes the signal from the satellite down in the telephones and Internet," said Winter, who, prior to mobilization, traveled to St. Petersburg, Fla., with ten other Red Bull Soldiers to take a ten-week concentrated course on the JNN system
Following the wires connected to the JNN, one is lead to the satellite dish, or STT, where information is bounced up to a geosynchronous satellite over 22,000 miles above the Earth.
"Information goes up to the satellite, and on the other side in Kuwait is the hub, that's where all these STT's connect to, and that's how we get communications," said Fox.
So how does that email get to your boss?
A switch fires as the send button is clicked, and the email zips through cables, flashes through a switchboard and blasts through a satellite transmitter up to a satellite. Then, after sprinting down to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, the email bounces right back up to the satellite before saying a quick hello again to the hub. One last frantic dash to the satellite, and finally the email is home, tip-toeing sheepishly back down to Basra and then to your boss's inbox.
And all this happens at the speed of light.
So thank your local NSC Soldier. They have an important job, making sure Soldiers can communicate with their commanders and with each other. Maybe shoot them an email; they'll get it on the bounce back from the satellite.
Just don't ask them how to fix your personal Internet.
"No idea. Outside my job," said Winter.