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Marines, Iraqis test 'push-button' 9-1-1 system for Iraqi convoys

18 Jun 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Iraqi soldiers took another step closer to independent operations when they completed testing and evaluation of a new tracking and communications system for their convoys.

Iraqi soldiers, from the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, finished a three-day course designed to familiarize the jundi, or Iraqi soldiers, with Mobile Tracking System Lite, a system similar to the Blue Force Tracker.  This system, however, is simplified and unclassified.  The jundi were tested on how to employ the system, forcing them into scenarios where they would need assistance and had to work through their own solutions without U.S. forces immediately available.

“The MTS Lite is a satellite-based position and location reporting system,” said Maj. Thomas L. Langlois, the officer coordinating the evaluation for Regimental Combat Team 5.  “It’s similar to the Blue Force Tracker, except it’s scaled down and lacks some of the high-order features.”

The system is a simple receiver and transponder that is fitted into any vehicle.  It’s equipped with three buttons, in this case, used to signal a delay in a convoy, a delay needing non-emergency assets and enemy contact, requiring emergency assistance, according to Maj. Brian D. Wirtz, the operations advisor to the Iraqi 2nd Brigade.

“Iraqis felt reluctance to run convoys into certain areas because of the perceived or real threat of going into a ‘black hole,’” said Wirtz, a 33-year-old from Carlsbad, Calif.  “Now, with this redundancy in communication, there’s a greater level of confidence because they have a better link to a response.”

Essentially, Iraqi soldiers now know that when they get into a bind, anywhere in Fallujah, they can simply push a button.  That button sends a signal to both Iraqi and Marine operations centers that can both coordinate and dispatch appropriate responses to the situation. 

“We’ve overcome a major hurdle in their desire to do independent operations,” Wirtz said.  “That’s a huge requirement for the Iraqi Army to logistically sustain itself.”

The MTS Lite system was first acquired about six weeks ago, according to Langlois, a 42-year-old from Conroe, Texas.  Marines provided instruction and designed a testing and validating phase to put not just the gear through the paces, but to also put the jundi through a series of exercises where they had to react on their own without Marine guidance.

“It’s a highly reliable communications link,” Langlois explained.  “It has three buttons and with rudimentary training, anyone can install and operate the system.”

Marines tested Iraqi soldiers on their ability to overcome a vehicle breakdown, discovery of a suspected improvised explosive device and reaction to a convoy being struck by an IED.  Wirtz said they were the most likely scenarios they would face while conducting combat operations.  While they operated on their own, they were just a button-push away from aid.

“The MTS Lite provides a 9-1-1 button if they become engaged and they know help is coming in one way or another,” Langlois said.

The jundi reacted to their scenarios, setting cordons around suspected roadside bombs and calling in for aid.  They performed link-ups with U.S. forces and coordinated using hand-held phrase recorders, playing pre-recorded Arabic phrases and point-and-talk cards. 

If the system is proven, it could be the way of the future for Iraqi forces to gain a more leading role and U.S. forces to fade back to a supporting role.

“This is huge,” Wirtz said.  “This test is on the cutting edge with interoperability of Marine and Iraqi units.  This is not only a validation of the system, but of the concept of Marine and Iraqi units being able to link up without translators for a common result.”

For their part, the jundi were impressed with their increased capabilities.  They know that the new system will allow them to work on their own, apart from Marines.  That sends a powerful signal not just to the common citizens of Fallujah, but to insurgents as well.

“The people will feel very happy and depend on us,” said Lt. Husan Mohammed Hanash, assigned to 2nd Brigade.  “The insurgents are going to get confused because they see our humvees and no Americans.  They will be confused.”

“The people will fell more safety when the army that is taking care of them is from their own country,” added Pvt. Fasail Jabbar Husain. 

The Iraqi soldiers know too that this is likely to be the way ahead for their entire army.  They know they’ve been trusted with learning the system, figuring out how to use it and teaching others the same.

“This is good because we were looking for help and we got it,” Hanash said of the MTS Lite.  “The Marines taught us and we’re learning to take care of each other.

“This is a kind of promise on our hands,” Husain added.  “Now, we have to explain it to the others.”

Initial results are still being compiled, but early indications are that the MTS might just fit the bill for allowing Iraqis to take the lead in the fight against insurgents and allow for easy coordination with supporting Coalition Forces.

“The system satisfies the requirements for in-transit visibility of a convoy,” Langlois said.  “It also satisfies the requirement for a distress button that is usable for bringing support to Iraqis should they need it.”