Army Signal Corps

Dominique Wilson Woods says his military service matured him. (Enrique Garcia/Contributor)

The Foothills Focus, in partnership with the Anthem Veterans Memorial, honors a local veteran each month. This is another in a series of articles about local veterans who are commemorated at the Anthem Veterans Memorial. This is the story of Dominique Wilson Woods.

In 1856, an Army medical officer and surgeon, Maj. Albert J. Myer, recommended his visual communication system, aerial telegraphy, be used as a means for communication among soldiers and command. 

Aerial telegraphy, or wigwag, used two flags of two sizes. The waving of the flag from left to right, or wigwagging motion, created a code, with letters designated to each motion sequence, much like morse code. 

Myer first used his visual signaling system on active service in New Mexico during the Navajo expedition. He used flags for daytime signaling and a torch at night. The wigwag was then tested in Civil War combat to direct the fire of a harbor battery at Fort Wool against Confederate positions opposite Fort Monroe.  

For three years, Myer relied on detailed personnel, although he always envisioned a separate, trained military signal service. 

His system was adopted June 21, 1860, and, in 1863, the Army Signal Corps was born with Myer as the first and only signal officer. 

As visual signaling became increasingly difficult, the electric telegraph was added to the Signal Corps’ systems. Within 12 years, the Signal Corps constructed, operated and maintained over 4,000 miles of telegraph lines along the country’s western frontier.

By the 1870s, upon congressional mandate, the national weather service was established under the Signal Corps. A decade later, with assistance from Lt. Adolphus Greely, Myer commanded a weather service of international acclaim. 

Myer died in 1880, having attained the rank of brigadier general and the title of chief signal officer. In 1881, as a lasting memorial to Myer, Fort Whipple was renamed Fort Myer.

Through polar expeditions and the Spanish American War, the Signal Corps methods advanced and added heliograph, telephone and telegraph wire lines and cable communications, fostered telephones in combat and employed combat photography. The Signal Corps constructed the Alaska Communication System, the first wireless telegraph in the Western Hemisphere. 

By 1903, then Brig. Gen. Greely was tasked with a congressional decree and $25,000 to build, “a flying machine for war purposes.” After a few failed attempts at flying, Greely contracted the Wright brothers who piloted the first aircraft at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. 

Through World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and War on Terror, the Army Signal Corps communication methods grew from pioneering radar technology to FM radio backpacks for combat to satellite signal communications to video-teleconferencing, tactical and global information networks. No matter when or where communication is needed, the Army Signal Corps develops, installs and maintains the appropriate system.

Exploring possibilities

In December 2013, Dominique Wilson Woods was not sure what he was going to do after graduating Mesa High School. He was intelligent, a football player and ran track. He made his single working mother of six proud. 

Woods was in touch with a close friend who had joined the Marines, and, with his encouragement, he researched the Army and the Marines.

His grandfather, an Army infantry soldier, who fought on the front lines in the Vietnam War, died when Woods was very young. Woods grew up without any stories of service or learning about his grandfather’s infantry experience. He understands now that many who fought in Vietnam most likely would not have spoken about it, but the missed opportunity weighed on him.

The Army became the best fit in Woods’ mind so, a senior in high school, he took the military entrance exam, scored well and enlisted. 

“Perhaps it was my grandfather’s memory who may have helped guide that decision. It wasn’t a choice for him during the draft, but it was mine to make, and that was the path I chose,” he said.

Fresh out of high school, Woods was off to basic training at Fort Benning. “I didn’t know what to expect. I still remember the drill sergeant screaming at us as we came off the bus, nailing every single one of us within inches of our faces.

“However, I was comfortable in the new setting. I grew up the eldest of six and had more responsibility helping my mother than a lot of kids my age. As an athlete, I arrived with an understanding of teamwork and the importance of leadership. It helped that I was physically fit and able to do all the drills with relative ease.

“I was vigilant and aware of my surroundings, and I knew I could do this. I never served in leadership roles in school, but my intuition was good. When the commanding officer passed out opportunities, I took them. I wanted to stand out and make something of myself. I became the platoon leader, the physical training leader and the battlefield guide. I really enjoyed the positions of responsibility and helping others who were struggling with all the physical elements of basic training.”

He shipped out to his advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, headquarters for the Army Signal Corps.  Each week he had intensive training into one aspect of communications. At the end of each week, he had to pass a test to continue onto the next training class. By the end of the 16-week training, Woods had a basic understanding for the Signal Corps roles and responsibilities.

“The classes for two to three hours a day afforded us the basic understanding we needed in each system,” he said.

“Acing the tests didn’t give me everything I needed to know. We had classes in signal support, maintenance of power generators, terminal devices and vehicles, radio installations, satellite systems, radio frequency installation and medical dispatch. Honestly, I can’t begin to list all the communication systems employed by the corps. It was the day-to-day field training and battlefield operations that allowed for the application of knowledge and helped me define my role.”

Woods was then deployed to the 387th Military Police (MP) Battalion in Arizona. He spent six years there, although he was sent to other states for battlefield training, where climate and terrain variations are required for advanced understanding of system operations. 

His field training reminded him that everything taught in the classes needed to be reinforced in the field. 

“I remember installing an OE254 satellite antenna for command,” he said.

“The antennas are enormous, and it takes four long wires attached to the ground to stabilize them. They require an 80-foot radius, and it even gives this caution on the box. As I was having trouble getting the fourth line in place, I made the mistake of pulling the cable without securing another side. The entire antenna came crashing down onto the command office center, breaking the window. Let’s just say the sergeant major was not impressed with my work that day and made me pay for my mistake with additional duties that were not any of our favorites.

“Every state and every training session provide a new understanding of what the signal corps did. It also provided me with the realization that I am not invincible and certainly had more to learn.”

While in a convoy during heavy rain in Wisconsin, his commanding officer asked if he would drive the Humvee back with the platoon. “We only know to say, ‘Yes, Sir.’ I had been in enough Humvees with a basic understanding of driving them, but I didn’t want to tell him I was not licensed to one. So, I got in and started driving. Unfortunately, the rain was coming down in sheets and the mud road became an entrenched river, making it just slippery enough for an untrained driver like myself to end up sliding down a hill and into a newly formed flood pond. Let’s just say, I never assumed I could do something again without the right training and I never took on a role for which I wasn’t trained.

“As an Army active reservist, I learned the importance of leadership and networking. I learned that teamwork is key to any success. I learned what it was like to be a part of something much greater than myself.  That is knowledge that I have carried with me and will continue to apply in my civilian positions.

“I wish I would have had the chance to talk to my grandfather. I would have wanted to share with him all the things I learned with the Signal Corps. I wished I had learned about his experiences in war. I hope he would be proud of my decision and service.”

A Phoenix resident, Woods is married and the father to a 3-year-old son, with another child on the way. “I want my children to know how to be leaders, to be strong contributing members of society and to not be afraid to try new things. I am proud of my service; I matured through my service and that is an incredible gift to value.”

Without a doubt, Woods’ grandfather would be proud of him, and we certainly are grateful for his service.