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Yuma radio tower approval signals success for air station communications, training

By Cpl. Pete Zrioka | | January 21, 2010

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It’s said that good things come to those who wait. That statement couldn’t be any truer for those who, after more than three years, finally received approval to begin construction on a radio repeater tower in the Chocolate Mountains in December 2009.

The site, Spring Hill, located north of the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range in southeast California, is the most critical of 12 repeater sites being upgraded or constructed across the Yuma ranges.

“It has taken us over three years to coordinate with the Bureau of Land Management in order to be able to develop the site,” said Robert Zittle, station communications director.

Spring Hill’s location is what makes it so valuable. While there are currently two other repeater towers west of Spring Hill in the Chocolate Mountain range, whenever they require maintenance, the range must be shut down, said Tom Richmond, station telecommunications project manager.

“If you had to take your car in every 30 days for maintenance, and you had no other way of getting to work, that’s a day of work you miss,” said Richmond. “It’s the same way with training when we have to shut down the range just to get in there to work on those towers.”

With the Spring Hill site’s off-range location, repairs and preventive maintenance can be done without stopping training on the range. Its high vantage point and elevation above the range will also allow for stronger signals.

“Because of the terrain, you need numerous repeaters,” said Richmond. “Terrain can bend the signals or attenuate the signals, especially because of all the minerals and ore in the mountains.”

Spring Hill, along with the 11 other sites ranging from as far east as Gila Bend, Ariz., and west to the Salton Sea, are part of two large-scale communications projects on base and on the ranges; Low Altitude Range Communications System and Enterprise Land Mobile Radio, said Zittle.

Both projects aim to enhance communications by bringing all range and base communications under two centralized, separate groups of frequencies, as well as upgrading infrastructure and software, said Richmond.

LARCS is geared toward ground troops talking to aircraft training on the ranges, while ELMR is more for the first responders on base, like military police, firefighters and search and rescue teams.

Explosive ordnance disposal, range maintenance and range wardens will also be on the ELMR frequencies, Richmond added.

Currently, every individual section on base has its own talk groups, said Rick Funk, radio division supervisor.

“This will greatly enhance cooperation between all the sections and different units operating on base and on the ranges,” said Richmond.

While construction on the Spring Hill site is not slated to begin until spring, work has already begun on one of the other sites, located on the Barry M. Goldwater Range east of Yodaville. The site is a replacement for the tower that went down nearly a year ago, and its backup that failed in November 2009. Both radio towers were supported by three cables anchored in the ground, but the corrosive nature of the soil degraded the integrity of the anchors, and the towers collapsed. Since the second tower went down in November, the area has been devoid of radio communications.

The new Yodaville tower, a 195-foot tall self-standing structure built on an interlocking hexagonal concrete base, is slated to be finished before the start of the next Weapons and Tactics Instructors course in March.

The remaining 11 towers to be built or upgraded will follow the same design. They are slated to be finished by December 2010.

“Once these projects are finished, with the 12 sites built, we are going to be the example for the Marine Corps on how end users should be able communicate on the range with both aircraft and those on the ground,” said Richmond.


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