FORT BRAGG, N.C. – It is an unusual Thursday morning when Army Spc. Sean Locke gets to skip physical training. Usually, he would be outside in the winter cold, more than likely running from one place to another and back again.
But there is a good reason why he’s not running at 6 a.m. In addition to being a computer systems repairer, he also is a member of Task Force Bragg’s assault command post.
The roughly 60 members of the ACP are a vital element of maintaining 18th Airborne Corps forced entry capabilities into a hostile country. They work hand in hand with the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division and support the infantry element with communications, medical, intelligence and command capabilities.
So, instead of PT, Locke reported to his company area to test and prepare the radios that will tumble out of airplanes in the rucksacks of paratroopers.
“I’m proud to be a part of the [ACP], because only a select amount of people get to do it,” said Locke, who serves with Company C, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 18th Airborne Corps. “My company commander came to me personally and asked if I wanted to be a part of it, so I feel privileged to have the opportunity to do this.”
After preparing for the night’s exercise, the regular work also has to be done. Before he could get out of the room where the radios are secured, another soldier asked for Locke’s help installing a radio into a vehicle for a weapons qualification range that afternoon.
“That’s just part of my job,” said Locke, who installed a radio into Humvee and established communications with range control. “I set up the radio last week, so I was asked again because they knew I could do it.”
Later, at a nearby baseball field, Locke and the rest of the communications team set up their radios in a dugout to stay out of the rain. With antennas sticking out through the chain-link fence, the soldiers practiced jumping out of planes and organizing themselves on the drop zone.
All radios successfully communicated with the Fort Bragg Operations Center, and the paratroopers repacked their gear into their rucksacks. They loaded onto buses for the short ride to Green Ramp, where their C-130 Hercules aircraft was staged.
The soldiers waited in the passenger terminal until the sun went down, but at 6 p.m. the jump was cancelled because cloud cover was too low for jumpmasters to ensure the drop zone was clear of hazards.
Locke shrugged off the cancellation.
“I honestly don’t mind,” he said, laughing. “It’s good training, and I understand why we do it, but it hurts when you hit the ground with an additional 70 pounds of gear.”
Instead of completing the exercise with the airborne jump, the group moved to a nearby field and simulated landing on the drop zone.
Using night-vision goggles to see in the dark, the team rallied at a designated point and headed in small groups toward the patrol base that was being set up. After an accountability check for personnel and equipment, the radiomen started working toward establishing communications with the Fort Bragg Operations Center and the designated secure tactical satellite.
Locke unfolded a small antenna and began radio checks. Within a few minutes, he gave a thumbs-up and called “comms are up” to the operations commander.
“Commo is our weapon,” said Army Col. Bruce Parker, operations officer for 18th Airborne Corps and commander of the exercise. “If we can’t talk, then we aren’t any good. “Our whole job is to get out here and establish communications, be able to shape conditions for the unit that’s jumping in with joint fires, joint intelligence, so we are feeding them information. If you can’t talk, you are just another rifleman on the drop zone, no matter what your rank.”
Communication is important because it’s the only way leaders can communicate and work as one team, said Locke, who along with five other soldiers was able to establish comms with the operations center. But the two soldiers establishing contact with the tactical satellites weren’t having as much luck.
“The cloud cover is making the signal come in and out. We can’t get a solid lock,” said Army Spc. Robert Mitzek, the satellite RTO for the command group.
While the soldiers continued to try to establish satellite communication, others performed medical evacuation and perimeter security training.
Thirty minutes later, Parker called everyone together to discuss the exercise’s successes and challenges. Then the group loaded back onto the buses and returned to the company area. The radios and weapons were secured, and after a short briefing, the soldiers were released to go home.
When Locke got home around 11:30 p.m., he found that his wife, Heather, had left food out for him.
“The hours are just part of being in the Army,” Locke said. “What matters is that the training teaches us something, and there were soldiers out there that had never done this in the dark. It’s always good training when at the end of it we can say we learned something.”