‘Semaphore’ takes Signal Corps back to basics

| August 24, 2012 | 0 Comments
Sgt. 1st Class Faamasino Galoia (front), semaphore bearer, 78th Sig. Bn., Camp Zama, Japan, uses Signal Corps semaphore flags to command the field during the entire 311th Sig. Cmd. (T) change of command ceremony, held at Fort Shafter’s Palm Circle, Aug. 15. (Chelsee Yee | 311th Signal Command (Theater) Public Affairs)

Sgt. 1st Class Faamasino Galoia (front), semaphore bearer, 78th Sig. Bn., Camp Zama, Japan, uses Signal Corps semaphore flags to command the field during the entire 311th Sig. Cmd. (T) change of command ceremony, held at Fort Shafter’s Palm Circle, Aug. 15. (Chelsee Yee | 311th Signal Command (Theater) Public Affairs)

Unique change of command ceremony proceeds in complete silence

Crista Mary Mack
311th Signal Command (Theater) Public Affairs

FORT SHAFTER — Red and white flags flapped in the wind as they moved decisively in the semaphore bearer’s hands, breaking the silence of a troop-filled Palm Circle, here.

Long before the advent of the radio, battlefield communications took the form of the wig-wag. With each position representing different letters, numerals and special signs, wig-waggers could signal an entire command to attention in complete silence.

The 311th Signal Command (Theater) paid homage to this historical means of communications in its change of command ceremony, Aug. 15, here, when Maj. Gen. James Walton assumed command from outgoing commander Brig. Gen. William Scott using Signal Corps semaphore flags.

Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn (right), commander, NETCOM, hands the colors to Maj. Gen. James Walton (left), incoming commander, 311th Sig. Cmd. (T), as Brig. Gen. William Scott, outgoing commander, watches during the unit's change of command ceremony at Fort Shafter’s Palm Circle, Aug. 15. (Crista Mary Mack | 311th Signal Command (Theater) Public Affairs)

Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn (right), commander, NETCOM, hands the colors to Maj. Gen. James Walton (left), incoming commander, 311th Sig. Cmd. (T), as Brig. Gen. William Scott, outgoing commander, watches during the unit's change of command ceremony at Fort Shafter’s Palm Circle, Aug. 15. (Crista Mary Mack | 311th Signal Command (Theater) Public Affairs)

“This ceremony symbolizes the ‘Back to Basics’ campaign,” said Scott, who will deploy to Afghanistan to head the International Security Assistance Force Combined Joint Communications.

Two signaleers from the 78th Sig. Battalion, 516th Sig. Brigade, Camp Zama, Japan, silently communicated the orders for the entire ceremony using two hand-held semaphore flags. Semaphore bearer Sgt. 1st Class Faamasino Galoia signaled orders from the commander of troops on the ground to Staff Sgt. Neil Ward, who then silently communicated those orders to all the troops on the field from his position on a 40-foot tower.

“As the commander of troops, I had seen (semaphore flag demonstrations) before, but had never been a part of actually doing it,” said Brig. Gen. Janice Haigler, deputy commander, 311th Sig. Cmd. (T).

Haigler noticed that, although it was announced the ceremony would be silent, some guests still looked confused, which illustrated how unusual the experience was.

“It was definitely different to not yell out the commands,” Haigler said. “The silence of it gives a different perspective on the change of command.”

During the ceremony, Haigler silently directed a field filled with elements representing the entire theater in the “Presentation of Command” and “Honors to the Nation.” She then joined Walton, Scott and Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn, commander, Network Enterprise Technology Command and host commander, in a formal inspection of the troops.

The ceremony culminated with the ceremonial passing of the unit’s colors, as Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Thompson, senior enlisted advisor, 311th Sig. Cmd. (T), passed the colors to Scott, who then passed them to Lynn, symbolizing the relinquishment of command.

Lynn then passed the colors to Walton, representing the official assumption of command. Walton completed the cycle by passing the colors back to Thompson, who returned the 311th flag to the color guard.

The event featured the musical accompaniment of the 25th Infantry Division Tropic Lightning Band.

Spc. Anesiglenn Foifua, Spc. Toso Foifua, Spc. Christopher Amituanai and Spc. Billy Mahnglaei, all with the 9th Mission Support Command, sang the National Anthem.

Headquartered in Hawaii, the 311th is the designated signal command across the Pacific theater and includes active and Reserve Soldiers.

“The number and scope of this unit’s accomplishments are simply staggering,” Scott said.

“The amount of opportunity that lies ahead here in the Pacific is absolutely unbelievable,” Scott added, “and this team is the one that can and will seize it and take it to the next level.”

Walton’s previous assignment was director, Chief Integration Office (G6).

“My assumption of command represents a change in personnel, not a change in policy or strategy,” Walton said.

“To be sure, together with our partners, I will examine our effort to determine where refinements might be needed,” Walton added.

“To the Soldiers, civilians, contractors and families of the 311th, I pledge to do all that I can to provide the best leadership, direction and example that I can muster,” Walton said.

Lynn spoke confidently about Walton’s new position commanding the 311th’s vast signal mission.

“I know you’re ready for the challenge of the Pacific and everything it has for you in store,” Lynn said. “On behalf of the NETCOM folks worldwide, we welcome you to NETCOM and the 311th family.”

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