Camp Babylon phoning home with aid of AT&T

4 Jul 2003 | Army Pfc. Samuel A. Soza

Service members are more connected thanks to new telephone centers being constructed at different base camps and airfields in theater.

The second of six phone banks to be constructed in Iraq was completed at Camp Babylon in time for troops to celebrate July 4.

The first was constructed at the Air Force Base in Tallil and the four upcoming centers will be located in the areas of Al Asad, Mosul, Al Sahra, and Balad.

At Camp Babylon, the center has been packed with patrons.

After a relaxing call to a loved one, Marine Lance Cpl. Timothy Smith commented on the phone center.

"It was great," Smith said. Smith, 29, is a native of Licking, Calif., and works as an operator with Truck Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, First Marine Division.

Before the first call could be made however, much work had to be done.

The facility's wooden frame was the handiwork of the Seabees, while five AT&T employees did the installation of the 48 phones. Setting up a satellite telephone in rural Iraq wasn't as difficult as some thought, especially with Navy engineers came on board, according to one AT&T worker.

"This was simple stuff," said Ben Brasch, the senior electrician on the project. The 45-year-old from Chicago is the leader of the five company workers involved with the projects.

"We had a lot of help from the Seabees building the center," Brasch said. "They leveled the ground for us," he said, indicating the flattened rock bed around him.

Senior Chief Lowe, of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 15 (Air Detachment), which based in Kansas City, MO., said that engineer's part in the phone bank consisted of groundwork mostly.

"We leveled the area, grated, rocked, basically compacted the ground," said Lowe, a 42-year-old native of Omaha, Neb.

The phones are wired into a large satellite dish. The dish sends the signal to a satellite, which relays the signal and connects the caller to the AT&T network.

Brasch said the dish was the most difficult part of construction. The dish needed to be aligned to its respective satellite and then stationed into the correct position.

All of the phone centers are built from a stand-alone design. All necessary equipment is stored in a large, metal, walk-in container that can be unloaded and assembled quickly.

"We're totally self-contained," Brasch said. "All we need is a place to set up."

Company electricians and Seabees constructed the center in four days.

The phone bank was completely finished on June 30 so troops were be able to use the center the following day.

After the installation of all the centers in the next few weeks, two of the five AT&T technicians will return home while the others will stay in Iraq maintain the electrical systems at all six locations.

The Marine Headquarters Group at Camp Babylon will oversee service of the phone center by ensuring that the generator powering the bank is fueled, as well as maintaining the tent.

Along with a new contracted food catering service that came to Camp Babylon, the new phone center will assist in keeping the troop morale high until they get the long awaited word to return home.