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European edition, Saturday, May 5, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — They speak in an obscure language about things like frequency management and interoperability. Wires are everywhere around them, running in a tangled web beneath towering antennas and satellite dishes aimed at the sky.

More than 1,000 communications experts from around the world are busy in Baumholder, where they’re engaged in a two-week program with a simple objective.

“It’s all about communication,” said Navy Lt. Nancy Harrity. “This is so commanders can talk with their troops in the field. You’ve got so many different nations here. They come together and learn so much from each other.”

U.S. European Command is sponsoring the 13th annual Combined Endeavor, a communications and information systems exercise at Lager Aulenbach in Baumholder. The exercise includes a forward operating site at the Air Institute in Yerevan, Armenia. The purpose is to ensure that systems are ready to operate during deployment, minimizing the potential for a breakdown in the heat of battle.

For Marines out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., the exercise is that first opportunity to test a new piece of equipment: the Remote Subscriber Access Module. The switching device is easy to carry and allows for multiple telephone functions in the field.

“It’s brand-new. This is our first international exercise and it’s going well,” said Marine Sgt. Elisandro Patino, a switch technician with the 8th Communications Battalion.

The telephone switching machine was introduced in January, Patino said.

Around the training area in Baumholder, one communication tent backs up to another. Country flags, as numerous as the languages being spoken inside the mini-communication compounds, are posted outside the tents. Some 1,200 personnel from 42 nations are participating in the exercise. NATO and Partnership for Peace also are taking part.

In one tent, Croatian technicians were sending messages to their Finnish counterparts in a point-to-point communication test.

“We’re conducting a lot of tests and learning what other nations do,” said Ivan Puhalo, a second lieutenant in the Croatian army.

It’s not all business, though.

The Croats, in particular, are using the international exercise as an opportunity to promote tourism back home. Travel brochures are stacked in their tent and rest near a bottle of wine — a gift from the French.

“It’s a beautiful country,” said Puhalo, making his pitch for Croatia.

Each year, new pieces of technology are incorporated into the exercise. A decade ago, hand-cranked phones were commonplace in the field, Harrity noted. But not anymore.

“It’s amazing how quickly the technology has moved forward,” Harrity said. “These are the people who make that happen.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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