Satellite communications link Forward Engineer Support Teams

Published Oct. 23, 2012
Jim Hynum (left) and Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Moran set up a broadband global area network at Far East District compound in Seoul, South Korea, in preparation for the annual combined force exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian.

Jim Hynum (left) and Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Moran set up a broadband global area network at Far East District compound in Seoul, South Korea, in preparation for the annual combined force exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian.

23 Oct. 2012

Public Affairs Office

VICKSBURG, Miss.—No matter where they are deployed, each Forward Engineer Support Team (FEST) must be able to reachback and communicate with stateside and other deployed command and control units.

The FESTs use a commercial-off-the-shelf capability, designed and developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Reachback Operations Center (UROC) at ERDC in Vicksburg.

The deployable teleengineering communications equipment provides a mechanism for real time reachback capability.  The UROC gathers lessons learned from the FESTs and engineer units to determine what capabilities are needed to enhance the FESTs ability to deploy their skills anywhere on the globe.

Recently, three FEST-Mains (M) and three FEST-Augmentations (A) units deployed to South Korea to test their skills and gain certification for their next deployment. The FEST mission during this exercise required the use of the broadband global area network (BGAN).  The easy-to-carry, compact BGAN terminal is approximately the size of a notebook that connects to a corded telephone to provide voice using Internet protocol.  The system provides broadband Internet voice and email in remote locations.  It gives each team access to satellite communications where standard office communications are unavailable, and allows the FESTs to reachback to district, division and ERDC subject matter experts.

Army Reserve Spc. Brandon Hill’s introduction to the BGAN started when he opened the case containing the equipment and instruction book.  Using only the “little white book in the box” as his guide, he set up the system to provide Internet and video teleconferencing capability for 378th FEST-M located at Camp Carroll, South Korea.

It was probably the easiest task he had that first week of the deployment.  The small package is easy to set up and use.  The user turns on the terminal and then slowly turns it to locate a satellite, listening for a tone that determines when the satellite is located.

The 378th FEST-M moved into a building that had not been used for two years, so it was filled with miscellaneous broken office equipment, office chairs and parts of cubicles – no phone lines, no Internet.

Col. Nick Mastrovito Jr., commander of the 368th Engineer Detachment (FEST-M), described the situation.  “It took a week for DPW to get phone lines and Internet drops in the building.  The BGAN was a lifesaver the first week.  We couldn’t wait for DPW, and the BGAN sustained us for the first week.”

The UROC at ERDC also developed the TeleEngineering Toolkit software that provides analytical tools for georeferenced displays of engineering products, analyses and digital data for the engineers working in remote locations.  The Automated Route Reconnaissance Kit (ARRK) combines the toolkit software with a global positioning system, video camera and an inertial measuring unit to provide route reconnaissance capabilities when mounted in a ground vehicle or an aircraft.  The FESTs used the ARRK and toolkit when they did route reconnaissance and site surveys.

The Humphreys Transportation Analysis Group of the 368th FEST-M was busy using the ArcGIS during their Korean deployment.  They correlated roads from 2nd Infantry Division strip map to the ArcGIS database, and then conducted research to determine if analysis had been done on the bridges. They took this information to refine the Military Load Class (MLC) or to test load capabilities.  They also exported tables from ArcGIS.

Equipment for the FESTs was not the only service that the UROC provides.  The UROC also provides equipment to the FESTs that enables them to reachback to the subject matter experts in real time and the ability to link to a repository of previously collected data.

The data repository proved valuable when the FEST queried the records for previous surveys performed at various locations such as Chilgok and Yangsang stadiums, Osan Air Base and Chinhae.

Col. Loren Zweig explained that his team knew the surveys were supposed to be complete.  But when it came time for boots on the ground, “It was good to be able to reachback to UROC,” he said.

1st Lt. Lindsy Dufore, the team’s resource manager, was tapped to do the needed information research.  This was her first deployment with the FEST-M.  “I gained a better understanding about the organization and the best resources.  I learned who the local resources were to see what was done recently.  Then, I checked with UROC to see what they had on record.”

Dufore’s research and ability to get information from UROC and other sources boosted the team’s skills and reports, adding significantly to the deployment’s success.

The equipment and expertise provided by the UROC continues to provide innovative solutions for a safer, better world.

Learn more about the USACE UROC at