FORT POLK, La. — Computer technology has advanced from floppy and compact disks to external hard drives and facial recognition software. While laptops and netbooks populate college campuses and gamer corners, signal Soldiers put this expanding information technology to an important use.

Signal Soldiers with 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion recently expanded the IT capabilities of their battalion by providing communications support while assisting with the set up of a tactical operations center at Intermediate Staging Base Alexandria for a month-long joint operational access exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., Aug. 5.

The Army signal’s branch consists of 16, enlisted military occupational specialties that range from radio operator-maintainer to satellite communication systems operator–maintainer.

These Soldiers learn skills in mechanics, electrical use, maintenance and wiring techniques.

“It’s one of those jobs where you are not really noticed until something goes wrong,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott Garrett, an information systems technician with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. “Everything has to be running every minute of the day.”

The battalion communications shop, also known as S-6, set up communications for radio systems, command post of the future, very small aperture terminals and battle command sustainment and support systems. The Soldiers set up these systems in cramped, high and hot areas across the area of operations.

“The commander has to be able to communicate to his elements and to higher headquarters,” said Garrett.

“Communications is one of the most vital elements of setting up a tactical operations center anywhere.”

The S-6 shop completed the TOC hardware setup within 48 hours of initial setup, directly supporting about 30 sustainment Soldiers and indirectly supporting hundreds.