As the war in Afghanistan continues to wind down, the Army is scaling back on the extras it sends overseas for deployments including some contracted civilian workers. As our Brian Dwyer reports, that means some soldiers will have to reach new heights to pick up some of the slack.
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- No Army can be successful without proper communication. Just like our cell phones, the Army depends on towers to get word back and forth. They're towers that have previously been set up and maintained by the Air Force and civilians. But as the war winds down, that support is going away, leaving the soldiers to fend for themselves.
"As we shrink down to a smaller base structure, we're going to have to re-position the communications architecture," Division Chief Information Officer, LT COL Jeffrey Schroeder said. "That's going to force us to de-install some of that equipment at some locations and re-install it at other locations."
Enter a small group of Fort Drum soldiers. They are in the process of learning the ins and outs of setting up the equipment and maintaining it. They are the first Army unit in the country to get this Air Force training.
"We need competent leaders up on the tower so that way they come down safe and complete the mission," SSG Christopher Penn, a Cable System Installer Trainer with the Air Force said.
Not only do these soldiers have to know the basics, how to fix any issues with the tower and how to perform rescues on any soldiers that may be trapped up there and any medical issues involved, but they also have to overcome the obvious doing all of that while maybe 100 to 180 feet in the air.
"When we came out here and were all thinking about the top of this, a lot of us were like, 'Nah, this isn't going to happen,'" PV2 Nadir Carey, a member of the HHBN Division Signal Company said. "There's a great chance we're not going to be in this class that long."
But part of the entry into this class was a fear of heights test. The trainers knew they could do it. Once they did, the soldiers realized how special being here was and maybe it wasn't so bad.
"Not everybody can do it and not everybody has done it so us being the first makes us elite. I'm thankful to have it," PV2 Carey said.
"When you're a 180 feet above the ground and being able to do that installation, it takes nerves of steel. So that's what we're trying to help them and prepare them with," LT COL Schroeder added.
These towers even more important now that the Army is beginning to arm soldiers with what is essentially a suped-up smart phone that is replacing those older radios. They are, of course, wireless.
The reason Fort Drum's unit was picked for this is simple. It's because it'll be one of the last divisions to deploy. It has to make sure that infrastructure lasts long after they leave.