CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- As the early morning sun slips over the horizon, it illuminates a group of Marines and their line of humvees, loaded heavy with gear. These diligent Marines suit up, mount up, and roll out of their home-away-from-home: a dry, dusty lot they call “Comm Company.” This lot contains the Communications Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).
These Marines, who wear enough equipment to make the infantry proud, who leave the base every day with heavy machine-guns mounted atop their humvees, are the Marines of Wire Platoon, on yet another mission to provide local Military Transition Teams with the tools needed to help train a successful Iraqi Army.
“We provided better service for them, quicker service,” said Sgt. Ratsamy J. Bouttavong, a 22-year-old wire chief from Sacramento, Calif. Hard wire or fiber optics is a more reliable, more efficient, and more secure paths for communication than radio phones and wireless information exchange, said Bouttavong.
A lot of the equipment that they had out there was for tactical or mobile use only, not for establishing a permanent base of communications, explained Bouttavong. The only downside to upgrading this technology is the labor required, especially in an urban environment with no existing communication infrastructure, she said.
Miles of concrete to break through, trenches to dig, and wires to bury, make for tired but determined Marines, said Bouttavong, adding that if it weren’t for the mental and physical toughness of the Marines under her supervision, the task would take much longer to complete.
If the power tools break down, they will not hesitate to resort to good old manual labor, said Bouttavong.
The Marines’ work ethic has been awesome, they are a bunch of work horses, said Bouttavong.
“Everybody pulls their own weight, working together, we’ve got a good bond,” said Lance Cpl. Chris J. Harkey, a 20-year-old communications Marine with Communications Company, who is in the beginning of his first deployment to Iraq. Harkey said remaining busy helps the Marines forget dangerous civilian areas are often overlooking their own work area.
“Our gunners take care of us,” said Harkey.
Despite the improvised explosive devices and mortar attacks which happen daily in the Al Anbar province, the Wire Platoon of Communications Company say they have to worry more about the fierce Iraqi sun than the dangers posed by the enemy.
“(The biggest challenge is) the sun and the heat,” said Lance Cpl. Nicole K. Estrada, a 20-year-old Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. native. Every morning, Estrada, a communications Marine with Communications Company, puts on a thick, protective full-body “gunner suit.”
“Out of the whole company, I am the first female to go out as a (.50-caliber machine) gunner,” said Estrada. “Having to be out there for two or three hours at a time in the gun suit is very fatiguing, it’s all about hydration.”
But Estrada said all of the hard work is necessary so that the Iraqi Army is able to relay information to units on missions and to the support units responsible for supplies.
“It’s important so the Iraqi’s can operate on their own,” said Estrada, explaining the need for the IA to have their own source of communication.
“You have to (appreciate) (Communications) Company, this couldn’t happen without them. Period, end of story,” said 1st Lt. Steven A. Ekdahl, communications officer, 1st Marine Logistics Group and acting communications officer for 1st Iraqi Army Division MiTT. A 25-year-old, Frankfurt, Ill. native, Ekdahl emphasized the importance of up-to-date communications for MiTT training capabilities.
The hard labor of the wire platoon has afforded the MiTT and Iraqi Army a reliable communication network, so they can now get what they need to continue their training and their aggressive fight against insurgents, said Ekdahl.
“You have to have communication in place first before you can have a government,” said Harkey. The Flagstaff, Az. native knows well the sacrifices he and his fellow Marines make will be worth it in the end.
“We were out there in our flaks and Kevlars the other day for about three hours, digging…it needed to be done…better now than when we have kids,” said Harkey, “better we take care of it, before they have to.”
Harkey and the other communications Marines agree that hard work makes the long days seem shorter sometimes.
Everything they do, they do together. Every trench dug, every wire spliced is done as a team. They fight together for every tedious inch, through dirt, sun, and dehydration.
“I keep pushing them,” said a determined Bouttavong.
“I know their potential, I know what they can do, and they continue to make me proud every day.”