Signal specialists, systems maintainers keep intelligence flowing

By Staff Sgt. Michael Crawford | Exercise News Day | July 18, 2018

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — Moving intelligence from the unit level down to Soldiers on the battlefield requires sophisticated systems. Those systems, usually, do not come as tough as the Soldiers operating them. Fortunately, the 373rd Expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion brings expert technicians to the field, ready to maintain a steady flow of information.

The 373rd E-MI Battalion provides communication support during exercise Always Engaged 2018, an external proficiency assessment of Military Intelligence Readiness Command (MIRC) units—in this case, the 259th E-MI Brigade. Consistently engaged since its establishment in 2005, the MIRC has mobilized and deployed more than 6,000 Soldiers in support of the Total Army and the Joint Force during contingency operations.

“This is the first exercise where we’ve worked with the brigade,” explains says 2nd Lt. Drew Taylor, officer in charge of the 373rd E-MI Battalion’s S6 section. “This current organizational structure is kind of new so we’re working out some wrinkles and getting used to communicating between units. They [the brigade] don’t have any of their own equipment yet because they’re so new. We’ve run into some issues, but we’re working those out so in the future we’ll be better at supporting them.”

Helping to support the 259th E-MI Brigade is Sgt. Jeremiah Higgins, military intelligence systems maintainer and integrator with the 373rd E-MI Battalion.

“If military intelligence uses something that runs off of electricity, I’m responsible for maintaining it, making it talk to all the other systems and making sure that it’s working,” explains Higgins, non-commissioned officer in charge of intelligence electronic warfare. During Always Engaged, he is assisting his unit’s S6 section, ensuring communications are operating properly and assisting the battalion with radio equipment.

Without functioning radio equipment, units are essentially non-deployable, according to Higgins, a native of Tacoma. Spc. Lyndsey Vanderhoof, NCOIC of the 373rd E-MI Battalion’s S6 section, cannot stress enough how true that is.

“We’d be unable to communicate … I don’t want to use the word ‘catastrophic,’ but it’s bad!” emphasizes Vanderhoof, a support systems signal specialist. “Hopefully, my guys know their jobs well enough at this point that they can at least do basic troubleshooting. The ideal situation is that, in our absence, they can feel empowered enough and comfortable enough to walk into the tactical operations center and say, ‘Excuse me, sir and/or ma’am, let me fix this.’”

Fortunately for the 259th E-MI Brigade, this is nobody’s first rodeo. Vanderhoof, a native of Seattle, has been maintaining signal equipment for nearly six years and has been in charge of her section for almost a year. Higgins, a veteran of Iraq, has repaired hundreds of systems, both in the civilian sector and the military, ranging from computer and video game hardware to radio and satellite systems.

While video game hardware isn’t on the equipment roster at Always Engaged, just about everything else is, making a daily inventory a critical facet of the 373rd E-MI Battalion’s mission.

“We, especially dealing with secret systems, have to do systems inventory: making sure we’re up on all of our hard drives and making sure all of our radios are counted,” says Vanderhoof. “We have to make sure that we still have active coms and that anybody who needs to communicate can communicate.”

For the 373rd E-MI Battalion, a successful iteration of Always Engaged means remaining invisible.

“Success is defined by everyone being able to talk,” says Taylor, a native of Seattle. “If you don’t know S6 is here, then we’re doing our job. If you can talk and … you don’t need to talk to us, then everything is A.O.K.”

Training events such as those covered by Always Engaged are key to America’s Army Reserve and MIRC readiness. Through these exercises and the lessons learned while participating in them, the MIRC stands ready to engage in any contingency operation at home or abroad.