By Jim Markle
NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND “I’m not a hero,” lamented Lt. Cmdr. Paul L. Choate after receiving the Bronze Star Medal on Dec. 6, 2007, for his accomplishments supporting coalition efforts during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But, to the thousands of warfighters and civilian contractors who lived and worked in the greater Baghdad area that came home unharmed; odds are he is.
From Nov. 2006 to Aug. 2007, Choate led a staff of nearly 200 military and civilian workers whose job it was to protect multinational forces from improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs.
Currently serving as the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) test line director, Choate went to Iraq as an electronic technical officer. He completed specialized training before going in-country, which covered explosive ordinance disposal and jamming systems. While in-country, he was assigned to the Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Calvary Division, U.S. Army, and was responsible for operations encompassing 12 Forward Operating Bases (FOB).
Working out of Camps Striker and Victory, in the western region of Baghdad, he oversaw the installation or jamming devices on an array of vehicles including Humvees, SUVs, Buffaloes, and large personnel transports.
“The ones (roadside bombs) I was fighting against were electronic controlled; whether it was cell phone, remote control, or radio,” Choate explained. “A receiver is used with a blasting cap or plastic explosive that has a larger explosive, and then a radio, for example, will key the receiver to turn on, and when a convoy passes, the signal engages the blasting cap which ignites the explosive. Our job was to jamb that receiver so it couldn’t hear the signal to tell the blasting cap to explode.”
Choate said receivers were often changed by the enemy, requiring the jamming of multiple frequencies.
Other weapons he dealt with included “pressure plate bombs,” which explode following the break of an electric signal. These, he said, could not be jammed.
Also difficult to detect, were roadside bombs that were disguised as repaired curbs, he added.
Newer and more sophisticated, was the enemy’s acid infrared (IR) devices which primarily targeted convoys by engaging an IR detector. “When the vehicle broke the light signal, it shot an explosively formed projectile. It’s like a mini-missile,” Choate explained.
To keep pace with countering the enemy’s changing weaponry, Choate said older vehicle jamming systems, which became obsolete in six months to two years, were upgraded continuously. The flexibility of newer systems, however, allowed upgrades to cover most changes in receiver frequencies, he said.
Because jamming systems, (salvaged or otherwise), were not always compatible with the intended vehicle, modifications were often required to achieve operation. The units were connected to a vehicle’s battery with an antennae attached to the front or back of the vehicle.
“These systems were being fielded very, very quickly so they didn’t go through the full systems engineering processes or tests. We had hand-held spectrum analyzers; so once a system was installed, we could check it to ensure it was working properly,” Choate said.
“Some vehicles had two jammers. Or, if they were traveling together, we’d put two different jammers on two different vehicles; where one jammer was specifically cellular, the other could be a ‘scan and jam,’ meaning it would scan a range of frequencies and when it detected something it would jam on that frequency,” he stated.
Installation of the devices and all levels of maintenance were initially performed in an abandoned motor pool at Camp Striker.
“(When I got there) All that had been contracted for was a building. I had to get a facility built. So I worked with the Army to dig a two-mile trench to run fiber-optic cable to get internet access, power and phones. I had to contract out to get water, port-a-potties, and gravel,” he said.
Choate said he faced another formidable challenge when tasked with a power modification to all of the jamming systems. An assembly line was established to replace and test the units.
“It was like having a gigantic car stereo installation placebecause that was the level of hands-on that was necessary to install these. I would call Army units direct and coordinate bringing their vehicles in and we would train them in how to use the (jamming) system and they’d go,” he said.
Average installation time per unit when Choate arrived was approximately two hours, he noted. But the former FRCSW E2/C2 deputy manager applied AIRSpeed techniques to the mount process to reduce unit installation time to less than 45 minutes.
“I was able to set up the new facility like the E2/C2 production line here. All the tools, parts, everything we needed were right there on the floor; so when vehicles came in, everything was ready for them it was a leaned out process,” he said.
To ensure maximum personnel protection, other workers set heavy armor to the vehicles once the jamming units were installed, Choate noted.
“There’s no way of telling how many roadside bombs were jammed,” Choate said, noting that the only quantifiable measure that really mattered, was that the number of roadside explosions fell dramatically due in part to his teams efforts.
“The goal was to bring home as many soldiers as possible,” he said.
By the time he left Iraq, Choate said he and his crew had installed “close to 12,000” jamming units.
Fleet Readiness Center Southwest, headquartered at Naval Air Station North Island, produces airframes, engines, components and services.