June 16 marked the 25th anniversary of the 311th Signal Command (Theater). The command’s rich history and its diverse people have a storied past. From the unit’s days of providing signal support during World War II to their current role of enabling joint forces continuous access to an ever-modernizing cyber domain, the people of the command are now ever-postured to help maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.
With deployable joint and expeditionary capabilities, the 311th SC (T) provides strategic and tactical network access to the Army’s portion of the Global Information Grid and functions as a Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Information operational headquarters.
A Brief History.
The 311th Signal Command (Theater) originated in 1944 as the 3112th Signal Service Battalion at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, supporting allied efforts during WWII. The 3112th participated in campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and central Europe.
The battalion was reorganized multiple times until it became the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 311th Signal Group in March of 1952 as part of the Organized Reserve Corps, which later became the Army Reserve. Due to growing requirements within the Army, the 311th was identified to become a general officer, theater-level command with the subsequent designation as the 311th Theater Signal Command at Fort Meade, Maryland on June 16, 1996.
Reorganized to support modularization and transformation of the Army in the Indo-Pacific, the 311th Signal Command (Theater) combines the strengths of active duty Soldiers, Army Reserve component forces, and a robust team of Civilian employees, to ensure secure communications throughout the region.
Fort George G. Meade, Maryland – A New Beginning.
When the United States Army Reserve Command first published the orders to stand up the 311th Theater Signal Command in May of 1995, they were authorized 255 personnel consisting of 89 officers, 8 warrant officers and 158 enlisted. The general officer selected to lead the command was Maj. Gen. (U.S. Army retired) Woodrow Douglas Boyce, who was commanding the 261st Signal Command of the Delaware National Guard. According to Boyce, there was an offsite review conducted by Headquarters, U.S. Army to reassess units in both the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. This review was an important aspect of the creation of the 311th TSC.
“The product of that offsite agreement resulted in moving the signal command from the National Guard to the Army Reserve,” Boyce said. “The 261st in Delaware reverted to a Signal Brigade.”
Soon after Boyce and the Soldiers of the 311th TSC moved to Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, the operational tempo kicked off to a fast start. The new staff members found themselves immersed in multiple military exercises including joint training exercises in South Korea such as Foal Eagle, Ulchi Focus Lens. Additionally, the 311th TSC also planned and led a large bi-annual training exercise called Grecian Firebolt.
“Grecian Firebolt was significant to the 311th in the fact that we put together one of the largest satellite communications exercises that connected the units that were associated with us,” Boyce said. “Those units included those in Korea, Fort Shafter, Hawaii, and Fort Huachuca, Arizona and other supporting units.”
According to Command Sergeant Maj. Randy Gillespie, 311th SC (T), the Grecian Firebolt Exercise was an important annual exercise for Army Reserve Signal units as it tied together a global communications network supporting many other Army Reserve exercises throughout each summer, such as Golden Medic, Rio Lobo, POLEX, and QLEX, to name a few.
“Grecian Firebolt was the culminating training event for most USAR Signal Battalions/Brigades that provided opportunities to validate collective training,” Gillespie said. “It was truly the one exercise a year that Signal Soldiers could focus on honing their tactical field craft with installing, engineering, operating, and maintaining a tactical communications network that supported many customers.”
Detachment 1 – Hawaii.
With a newly established headquarters and the command slowly and steadily solidifying operations in the Indo-Pacific, the 311th SC (T) would subsequently absorb smaller signal units in its theater of operation. The first of these was Detachment 1, a multi-component signal unit comprised of approximately 6-8 personnel that served as the forward cell in support of USARPAC and fell under the 516th Signal Brigade during peacetime. The unit was established in the fall of 1991 and had already served as a crucial link between the 311th TSC back in Maryland and USARPAC in Hawaii. For Col. (U.S. Army retired) Rich DeBreuil, who served as the deputy operations officer for Det. 1, between 2004-2006, the vastness of operating in the Indo-Pacific is an important task for the Army.
“The posturing of a headquarters to command an environment such as the Pacific, is huge,” DuBreuil said. “Our ability to work with the Marines in Okinawa, to work with the Koreans, and even potentially work with the Taiwanese and all the other forces, means that you must have that Army component as we are the biggest element when it comes to communications in that arena.”
Detachment 2 – Korea.
Detachment 2, 311th SC (T) was established in Yongsan, Korea in 2000 with 38 AGR Soldiers embedded within Eighth U.S. Army (EUSA) G6 staff. The senior AGR Signal COL in charge of Det. 2, 311th served as the EUSA G6 primary staff officer on behalf of the 1st Signal Brigade Commander. Det 1 personnel served in the role of planning communications support to both daily communications and recurring exercises, and executed OPLAN communications validation conferences with all wartime supporting Signal units annually.
“We supported anybody in any capacity that needed communications,” Sgt. Maj. Mark Papenfuss, (U.S. Army retired) who served with Detachment 2 in Korea from 2000-2002. “Our team all had the same mindset and varying degrees of mobilization and deployment experience and we made decisions that would affect how units were going to get supported because it needed to be done.”
According to Papenfuss, the team held a series of engagements with command teams throughout the Korean Peninsula to inform them of the role of the 311th SC (T) as an enabler to do their jobs and to provide adequate levels of communications to execute their command and control. Papenfuss also served as the G-3 Operations sergeant major of the 311th SC (T) from 2006-2007.
“This operational effort was continuous and, on a periodic basis, the training exercises were the validators of our mission of having educated everybody around us on what we could provide, and what the 311th could do,” Papenfuss said. Det. 2 personnel remained forward in Korea until 2006 when the entire unit was centralized and re-stationed at Ft. Shafter.
Fort Shafter, Hawaii Bound.
In Spring 2006, Headquarters Department of the Army and Army Service Component Commands announced a concept of changing major command structures including new modularity to USARPAC. This required a new Signal Command (Theater) model to be fundamentally different from the mobilization-focused Theater Signal Command of the past. Ten years after the 311th TSC stood up at Ft. George G. Meade, in September of 2006, the command effectively became the 311th Signal Command (Theater) and was scheduled to relocate to Ft. Shafter, Hawaii. The future of the 31th SC (T) was to become a theater-enabling command of U.S. Army Pacific Command, which maintains operational control, while also reporting to both U.S. Army Reserve Command and U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, for administrative support. Subsequently, the 311th SC (T) took operational control of the 516th Signal Brigade and many of its theater-level architecture and engineering functions.
For Maj. Gen Donna Dacier and her staff, setting up shop was not an easy task. The command now had a new home located far from the “Old Line State,” with Maj. Gen (U.S. Army retired) Donna Dacier as the first commanding general in the newly established tropical location.
According to Dacier, her chief of staff at the time secured 28 minimum two-year tours for the first set of Army Reserve Soldiers slated to carry out the transition to Hawaii. These tours included all ranks from colonel to the noncommissioned officers.
“That was one of our biggest concerns - that we weren’t going to have enough manpower full time to make this happen,” Dacier said.
When the 311th SC (T) arrived in Hawaii, they were definitely the new kid on the block, as there were no pre-existing structures for the Soldiers to operate from and call their headquarters building. Some of the command’s components were scattered in several buildings throughout Ft. Shafter and, according to Dacier, some of the staff lived and worked out of the old bunkers/tunnels on post. Fortunately, for the command, some Soldiers had commercial construction and engineering backgrounds and once a building was identified to become the headquarters, these Soldiers were key in designing and planning the retrofitting the command’s headquarters. For Sgt. Maj. (U.S. Army retired) Gerald Wayne Capps, this was one highlight of his time with the command.
“At that time, we were split up all over the island in different buildings,” Capps said. “Along with a few senior NCOs and warrant officers, we helped the Army Corps of Engineers in the design of the offices in the current building.”
Meanwhile, the 311th SC (T) was still the new multi-component unit on the island and Dacier felt that the stigma of “weekend warriors,” often referred to for Reserve service members, would dampen relationships with USARPAC and other adjacent or higher units. This placed significant pressure on the 311th SC (T) team to prove themselves. According to Dacier, there were some initial growing pains but through proactive coordination with other signal units like the 25th Infantry Division G6, the storming and norming phases of relationship building quickly solidified.
“I felt that although we might not have been the first choice that USARPAC had on the list for a signal command, I do believe that we acquitted ourselves satisfactorily and we set the conditions for all those following on and I’m so proud.”
In 2010, when EUSA was designated a Field Army aligned for Title 10 support under U.S. Army Pacific (as the single Army Theater ASCC HQs), the 311th SC (T) assumed administrative (technical/network/resourcing) control of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Signal Brigade and its assigned forces in the Republic of Korea while operational control remained with EUSA.
This posed an important opportunity from a task-organization standpoint. The Soldiers and staff of the 311th SC (T) had to ensure that all supported units operating in the Korean peninsula knew how to coordinate with them for communications and resourcing (funding, personnel and logistics) support and the 311th SC (T) staff in Hawaii had to quickly adapt and learn this new supporting role as well. Fortunately, many of the command’s personnel, at the time, were experienced officers and non-commissioned officers and Department of the Army Civilians.
Indo-Pacific Looking Forward.
As Brig. Gen. Jan C. Norris, the current commanding general of the 311th SC (T) often reminds his staff and Soldiers, since its inception, the 311th SC (T) has always been aligned to the Pacific. This tradition of alignment to what is now referred to as the Indo-Pacific Theater, began 25 years ago for the 311th SC (T). “The 311th continues to enable mission command, enhance readiness and contribute directly to competition, deterrence and stability in the Indo-Pacific region,” Norris said.
New and ever-changing cyber threats pose more complex challenges than traditional warfare capabilities. The need for a more unified signal-cyber network capability to face digitally advanced adversaries will test the readiness and resolve of the Command, as will the Command’s ability to align with and support the evolving multi-domain operating concept of the Army and Joint Force.
“In the coming years,” Norris said, “311th will modernize to meet strategic goals for dynamic forward posture/presence, enhanced design, increased Joint/Combined Network lethality, and expand the DODIN to Southeast Asia, South Asia and Oceania to ensure successful competition for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”