SIGNAL SOLDIERS

     This is a follow up to my story on MOS 25B, army IT specialist “BE AN ARMY COMPUTER GUY OR GAL”. This is about the signal corps in general.

     Signal Soldiers are, or soon will be; Information Technology Specialist – MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 25B, Signal Support Specialist – MOS 25U, Network Communications Systems Specialist – MOS 25H, and Satellite Communications Systems Operator/Maintainer – MOS 25S. These are some of the most civilian marketable army jobs. They currently require a four year enlistment and a SECRET security clearance.

     The US Army Signal Corps is currently undergoing a massive and rapid evolution. In the “old Army”, with the inclusion of satellites in the military communications systems, enlisted signal jobs ranged from a radio operator/maintainer, with an AIT (Advanced Individual Training) of about eight weeks, to satellite and microwave system operators and maintainers, and multi-channel communication center maintainers, with AIT’s of sometimes over 30 weeks. Those were highly specialized, technical jobs. In the 20 years between 1980 and 2000, the world switched to communicating via computer. The Army Signal Corps struggled to keep up, it trained soldiers to be computer savvy communicators, but they were still highly specialized. As a result, when Iraq and Afghanistan exploded, the Army had qualified communications soldiers, but it took four or five communications specialists, each trained in a narrowly defined task, to do what could be efficiently performed by one civilian contractor. The military hired civilian contractors, and the signal people complained that they weren’t being used.

     In the past eight to ten years, Army leadership – the three and four stars – who came up the ranks with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, having to deal with logistics, casualties, and communications, while dealing with an enemy combatant, have been changing the Army more rapidly than it has changed since World War II. The US Army Signal Corps is now in the midst of change.

     In April 2016, the Department of Defense (DOD) started moving from the Command Cyber Readiness Inspection (CCRI) to the Command Cyber Operations Readiness Inspection (CCORI). The new CCORI was to not only test a system for compliance with all DOD directives, but to challenge the security of that system. Then in November 2018, Colonel Joseph Pishock, Commander of the 1st Signal Brigade in Korea, together with Major James Torrence, Operations officer of the 41st Signal Battalion of the 1st Signal Brigade, wrote a scathing article in “Small Wars Journal” about the US Army Signal Corps.      Their point was that the Signal Corps had become so addicted to rigidly complying with cyber standards that it was afraid to take risks. In other words, not allowing the addicted computer geek specialists and sergeants to try anything outside specific guidelines, to defeat a cyber threat. They said the culture of the Signal Corps had to change. In the Signal Corps of the old days of radios, it worked or it didn’t work. In the cyber world of today, it works but someone is trying to get our data, which is the number of troop movements, logistics, ammunition, operations orders – everything. In the civilian world the computer geek at the keyboard is the first line of defense. The Army also has computer geeks, it just hasn’t been allowing them to take risks and try new things.

     In an interview in August 2019, Brigadier General (BG) Christopher Eubanks, Chief of Signal and Commandant of the Signal School, at that time, said that the Signal Corps is consolidating from 17 MOS’s to 7. It is revamping all signal AIT’s to the new consolidated MOS’s, to produce better trained and more versatile signal soldiers. The signal jobs (MOS’s) for which an individual may enlist are being reduced from 13 to 6, and finally, I believe, to 4.
This is a transition currently in process and won’t be completed for another two to four years. Some MOS consolidations are scheduled to be completed October 1st 2022.

                           Brigadier General Christopher Eubank and

                            Command Sergeant Major Richard Knott   

 The US Army Signal School is located at the Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, Georgia (Augusta).

     Throughout the dozens of comments, I found from current and former signal soldiers, the one subject that came up in almost all, was that they did a lot of cross-training, because they were often not assigned to a job consistent with their MOS. 25B’s working in 25N positions and vice versa, 25U’s working in both. It appears that the overall attitude of the Army has been, a signal soldier is a signal soldier.

     Current MOS 25C Radio Operator/Maintainer is being merged into MOS 25U Signal Support Systems Specialist. The current AIT for 25U is 16 weeks. Retired Signal Sergeant Virgin Houston said this; “I think this is the hardest signal MOS because you are alone in an infantry or other type unit. If something uses electricity, you will be expected to make it work and fix it. Very high pressure, but rewarding. This is the black sheep of Signal. You are jack of all trades and master of none. I don’t think these folks are given enough training.” Hopefully the training is being fixed with this revamping. The 25U is not only a computer guy or gal, he or she is the commo expert in an infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineer, or other “line” unit. High Frequency (HF) radios are used in combat units, because many things from enemy hacking to a thunder storm can shut down satellite communications.

                              AN/PRC-163 Multi-Channel Handheld Radio

          AN/PRC-158 Multi-Channel High Frequency Manpack Radio

                  RF=300H Wideband HF Manpack Radio – Allows Secure High                                               Frequency Wideband data transfer       

Army standardized tactical computer allows Commanders to actually “see” the battlefield from their command vehicle.

Current MOS 25Q Multichannel Transmission Systems Operator/Maintainer and MOS 25N Nodal Network Systems Operator/Maintainer are being consolidated in new MOS 25H Network Communications System Specialist, effective October 1st 2022. Currently, 25Q’s install, operate, and maintain multi-channel line of sight and tropospheric scatter communications systems, antennas, and associated equipment. The AIT for 25Q is 15 weeks long. MOS 25N’s are the tactical network people. That AIT is currently 21 weeks. One 25N said this; “25N is a fantastic job full of certification and plentiful networking with civilian contractors and field service representatives. It is difficult but rewarding. You’ll work in truck-mounted, airconditioned switch shelters. You are as marketable as they come, if you decide not to reenlist.” Another said to over maintain your generator. Oil it, grease it, love it, and fuel it constantly. Without the generator, you’re just another lowly radio operator. Virgil Houston, said this is a good one for transference to civilian jobs. He also said that 25Q is good for transferring to civilian jobs. He also said that both were often done by civilian contractors.
Current MOS 25P Microwave Systems Operator/Maintainer is being merged with MOS 25S Satellite Communications Systems Operator/Maintainer. MOS 25P AIT is currently 11 weeks, and MOS 25S AIT is 18 weeks.

        The Army Warfighter Information Network – Tactical (WIN-T)   

                                                   WIN-T Equipped 

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division leverage Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), the Army’s tactical communications network backbone, to enable mission command and advanced network communications in the brigade main command post on September 23, 2015, during Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 16.1, at Fort Bliss, Texas and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. (U.S. Army photo by Amy Walker, PEO C3T Public Affairs)

WIN-T Tactical Communications Node-Lite (TCN-L) and Network Operations Security Center-Lite (NOSC-L) are now being fielded to light infantry units after a successful operational test at the Network Integration Evaluation at Fort Bliss, Texas, in July 2017. (Photo by Jen Judson/Defense News Staff)

     There are three other signal MOS’s, soon to be consolidated to two, that are also part of the Signal Corps. MOS 25M Multimedia Illustrator, is being consolidated into MOS 25V Combat Documentation/Production Specialist. There is also MOS 25V’s partner MOS 25R Visual Information Equipment Operator/Maintainer. These jobs are not part of the Signal Corps community.    Their AIT is at the Defense Information School, at Fort Meade, Maryland, along with the MOS 46S Mass Communication Public Affairs Specialists AIT. The signal corps recommended that these be transferred to Public Affairs, but there appears to be some resistance from Public Affairs. I feel that they will eventually be transferred to Public Affairs.

     The enlistment requirements for all these signal MOS’s are ASVAB scores of 100 in EL and 102 in ST. The EL (Electronics) score is a combination of four sub tests, Electronics Information, General Science, Arithmetic Reasoning, and Mathematics Knowledge. The ST (Skilled Technical) is also from four sub tests, General Science and Mathematics Knowledge, plus Verbal Expression (English) and Mechanical Comprehension. All require a SECRET security clearance, which entails a National Agency check, including financial history, and interviews, if deemed necessary. At present, most require a four-year enlistment. That could change, as MOS’s and AIT schools are consolidated.
Signal AIT is being completely restructured. The goal is to train an all-around signal soldier. All MOS’s will be together for about the first month of AIT. In that “Foundational Training”, there will be a day and a half of Orientation and pre-assessment, four days of Computer Literacy, two days of Operating Systems/Printers, and about 10 days of Networking/Security. After the Foundational Training, AIT students will separate into their MOS specific training. After the MOS training is complete, all will return for a joint four-day field exercise, with all practicing their combined skills in a tactical environment. I feel that after this has been fully implemented, all signal AIT will be around 20 to 25 weeks. If it goes to 25 weeks, or more, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the enlistment requirement go to five years.

     Reports from current and former AIT students at Fort Gordon are mixed about academics and general life as an AIT student. Academically, the 25B’s and 25N’s said that it was easy, if they were already a computer person, if not it was hard – study, study, study. As far as life outside the classroom, freedom of movement appears to differ from company to company. All complained about multiple daily formations, including weekends. This seems to be a symptom of what Colonel Pishock and Major Torrence called a fear of commitment and risk taking within the Signal Corps. Decisions being made at high levels, relieves junior officers and sergeants of responsibility, thereby detracting from their inclination to make leadership decisions. The result comes through to enlisted soldiers, as a lack of trust. Although, that appears to get better further into the course. There are surprise inspections for alcohol and drugs and other infractions of rules.

     Some cautioned not to let your physical condition deteriorate, during AIT. They said that regular PT is not enough to keep you in shape for the ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test), and that a couple failures can result in a discharge. The entire Army is completely serious about personal physical condition.

     Where are signal soldiers assigned? Everywhere there are soldiers. Including the Airborne Option in the enlistment contract, will probably point the new enlistee to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, although there are a few airborne signal soldiers scattered with Special Forces Groups. They don’t become Green Berets’, they are in signal units that support Special Forces. One of the Special Forces MOS’s, 18E, is Communications. Being a signal soldier would be a good basic education for someone desiring to become a communications Green Beret. I saw SF commo guys, in Vietnam, throw a wire up in a tree, pull their little radio out of their ruck and talk to the world.

     These are high tech, brainy jobs which are also good paying civilian jobs.

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