In my time in the US military I have had the opportunity to deploy 7 times now. I deployed 3 times doing infantry missions and one of them was a convoy operations mission. The rest were EOD missions. Throughout my time on these missions, there has constantly been a major issue with military communication, or lack thereof. I do not mean communication from higher ups to soldiers. What I mean is the communication by radio to essential personnel involved in a military mission. It did not matter if we were on a foot patrol, in a convoy escort in military vehicles, on guard in a tower, or doing a homemade explosive raid in an Iraq or Afghanistan village—radio communication was always an issue, and the MOS qualified personnel with us were constantly addressing radio failures. We even took several classes on proper radio usage before deploying. This was not just an issue for us. This was an issue military-wide no matter the unit or type of mission being executed. It was very frustrating trying to communicate with your soldiers on a mission or trying to communicate information back to the command during a mission.
Military Communication Equipment and the Cost
The government and the military spend millions of dollars on equipment and military technology, especially radio communication. So why is it that radio communication has been an issue for decades? Anybody that has been in the military will tell you that they had many issues with radio communication. If you watch an older military movie, you will definitely see somebody throw a head set or radio because they cannot communicate back to people in command. The radios we have now (for security reasons I won’t mention the names of them) are sophisticated yet user friendly. You can literally take the youngest and lowest rank new solder in your unit and show them the essential things to know about how to use them in 30 minutes. You can show them how to set a channel, what frequency each command is using, and how to load a new frequency. But when you’re out on a mission, all of the sudden, things will go wrong, and you’re sitting there thinking, “what do I do now?” These are radios that are supposed to allow you to talk to people who are miles away no matter the terrain or weather conditions.
The Radio Ghost
It is funny now, but we used to joke that the radios had ghosts that messed them up. I cannot remember how many times we would check our radios and put in new batteries, then a few minutes later when the mission had started, the radio would not work right. I will say these radios are not soldier proof, and it does not take much, especially in a cramped military vehicle, for the gunner to accidentally hit the radio with their foot while rotating the turret and turn it off or change the channel (or sometimes worse). They can cause the radio to lose its fill, which affects the channels and frequency that have been loaded for each mission. There were many times when I would do radio checks to verify that the radios were working, and then realize the next morning when I would get in the vehicle I was going to be in for the mission that the radio ghost has gotten in there. The radios would not work, and I would then have to spend important time fixing them. You must have operable radios so that you can communicate with each soldier on that mission and especially the command post. That way, you can pass on valuable reports and even enemy contact to command. When you cannot do that, it becomes a safety issue and puts lives at risk. On multiple occasions, people have been wounded and had problems communicating with an ambulatory unit to evacuate the wounded soldiers to get needed medical attention. When you’re overseas on a mission, it is hard to understand why radios are not working when you need to communicate with everybody on the mission, but a soldier can still use their phone to message people home in the United States.
Can This Be Fixed?
Radio problems have been around for many years, and I would be a millionaire if I knew how to fix this problem. It puts soldiers’ lives at risk and risks a loss of mission execution if you cannot communicate.
So, what can the military do? Well, once again, I wish I knew. For most things in the military, there is an easy fix. However, communication has always been a problem for the military, and they’re constantly coming out with new and improved technology. They become more user friendly, but the biggest problem always seems to be distance, and yes, this problem is one that is affected by things such as terrain, weather, and more.
How You Can Help Military Communication
The first thing that you can do to help communication is simple. Be careful and pay close attention to where the radio is located at all times. This way, your gunner cannot bump into it when they are rotating their turret. Leaders should always verify that the radio is operable hours before any mission, no matter its importance. Commanders, NCOs, and every other soldier should receive adequate and frequent training on proper radio usage. When we would do missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we would keep track of when and where the terrain affected radio communication, so we could plan ahead with alternate means of military communication.
There are so many different types of radios. It would be great if we could at least test them before purchasing them instead of always relying on utilizing equipment that was provided by the lowest bidder. You cannot give the price of a soldier’s life to the lowest bidder. If there is one thing I could change in the military, it would be this because I know in the end it would truly save the lives of our most valuable military assets: the men and women who fight for our freedom.