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Exercise participants handle hostile intruders during the Healthy Thunder exercise last week in Bitburg, Germany. Ramstein Air Base's 1st Combat Communications Squadron, the NATO Interim Deployment Combined Operations Center and four other U.S. Air Forces in Europe squadrons took part in the exercise.
Exercise participants handle hostile intruders during the Healthy Thunder exercise last week in Bitburg, Germany. Ramstein Air Base's 1st Combat Communications Squadron, the NATO Interim Deployment Combined Operations Center and four other U.S. Air Forces in Europe squadrons took part in the exercise. (Courtesy of the 1st Combat Communications Squadron)
Exercise participants handle hostile intruders during the Healthy Thunder exercise last week in Bitburg, Germany. Ramstein Air Base's 1st Combat Communications Squadron, the NATO Interim Deployment Combined Operations Center and four other U.S. Air Forces in Europe squadrons took part in the exercise.
Exercise participants handle hostile intruders during the Healthy Thunder exercise last week in Bitburg, Germany. Ramstein Air Base's 1st Combat Communications Squadron, the NATO Interim Deployment Combined Operations Center and four other U.S. Air Forces in Europe squadrons took part in the exercise. (Courtesy of the 1st Combat Communications Squadron)
British Tactical Communications Wing Cpl. Christopher Wright defends the compound as a smoke bomb helps to simulate an attack during the Healthy Thunder exercise last week in Bitburg, Germany. Ramstein Air Base's 1st Combat Communications Squadron, the NATO Interim Deployment Combined Operations Center and four other U.S. Air Forces in Europe squadrons took part in the exercise.
British Tactical Communications Wing Cpl. Christopher Wright defends the compound as a smoke bomb helps to simulate an attack during the Healthy Thunder exercise last week in Bitburg, Germany. Ramstein Air Base's 1st Combat Communications Squadron, the NATO Interim Deployment Combined Operations Center and four other U.S. Air Forces in Europe squadrons took part in the exercise. (Courtesy of the 1st Combat Communications Squadron)
Commanders defend the base from attack amid a smokescreen of fog during the Healthy Thunder exercise last week in Bitburg, Germany.
Commanders defend the base from attack amid a smokescreen of fog during the Healthy Thunder exercise last week in Bitburg, Germany. (Courtesy of the 1st Combat Communications Squadron)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Keeping communication systems operating in extreme conditions is one challenge U.S. and NATO troops are meeting at the Healthy Thunder exercise in Bitburg this month.

The exercise involves the 1st Combat Communications Squadron from Ramstein Air Base, four other U.S. Air Forces in Europe squadrons and the NATO Interim Deployment Combined Air Operations Center.

The 1st Combat Communications Squadron sent 40 airmen to Bitburg last week to set up satellite dishes and other communications equipment for the exercise and to begin their own Healthy Star exercise.

At one point in the exercise, the camp was attacked and members had to maintain satellite communications with the squadrons from RAF Lakenheath, England; Aviano Air Base, Italy; Spangdahlem Air Base; and a small communication squadron attached to the Army in Mannheim.

“My unit’s role is to provide the communication pipelines to allow information to be moved to where it needs to go,” said 1st Combat Communications Squadron commander Lt. Col. Michael Niezgoda.

Working to ensure those pipelines will work with NATO’s systems began Monday when IDCAOC entered the exercise.

“Theoretical models are very nice,” said Belgian Brig. Gen. Danny VanLaethem, commander of IDCAOC’s Detachment 2, “but I want to see it work in the field.”

According to VanLaethem, aligning NATO communication systems to U.S. communications is crucial for coalition forces to continue to work together in peace and wartime.

“We are very good at command and control,” VanLaethem said. “But what we haven’t tried, until now, is using the U.S. capability in the field to connect NATO units.”

Members of VanLaethem’s unit at Ramstein were responsible for receiving data transmission from their troops in the field. The data was part of a simulated air task order for Spangdahlem.

To the cheers of VanLaethem’s troops at Ramstein, the transmission went through late Tuesday afternoon.

“If we can communicate with that system [and those] units, we can connect anywhere in the world,” VanLaethem said. “… What we do today is a very small step, but an important one.”

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