Drew Brooks Military editor @DrewBrooks
Sgt. 1st Class Mike Sanders and Sgt. Sam Odior stood just outside a cluster of pine trees and stared at a small screen.
Sanders pressed an icon on the screen as Odior glanced up at the antenna protruding from a pack on the other soldier’s back.
“I think I’ve got something,” Sanders said as Odior leaned forward to get a better look.
“We’ve got a possible hit on the freq,” the paratrooper repeated, this time into a radio, signalling three other soldiers nearby.
In a wooded training area on Fort Bragg, the team of soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division were involved in a complicated game of hide and seek.
Using an electronic warfare system known as the VMAX, paratroopers from across the 82nd Airborne Division were competing to find a series of waypoints. Using the VMAX, the soldiers scanned for a signal frequency and then honed in on its source.
The navigational test was the first event in the 82nd Airborne Division’s inaugural Electronic Warfare Competition.
Lt. Col. Robert A. Robinson II, the division’s cyber electromagnetic activities, or CEMA, chief and the officer in charge of the competition, said the event was designed to showcase skills that are becoming more and more important on the modern battlefield.
Electronic warfare is used to jam enemy signals, defeat unmanned aerial systems and disable improvised explosive devices.
Robinson said teams received an alert with a location grid early Monday.
“They knew the competition was going to start, but they didn’t know where,” he said. “We’re trying to stick to the traditions of the division: to be ready any time, any where.”
The three-day competition will include several classroom tests, but it began in the field.
Capt. Brian Mercado of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team said the navigation test was forcing the soldiers to use their electronic warfare systems in ways they haven’t before.
In past training, Mercado said, soldiers used the VMAX systems defensively on drop zones to protect paratroopers from enemy systems. But the navigational test showed that the systems also could be used to pinpoint an enemy force.
“This goes beyond our typical training,” Mercado said.
The system is the size of a large backpack with large antennas protruding overhead and can be jumped with a paratrooper. The lightweight system can detect, locate, monitor and jam radio frequency signals.
Each brigade combat team in the division has a CEMA cell. And each sent at least one team to compete, Robinson said. Each must be able to plan, troubleshoot and execute missions as they are provided.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “Electronic warfare is a big part of the future and this is the tactical-level support we provide.”
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at [email protected] or 486-3567.