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Instructors team with Project Manager: modernizing the 25P schoolhouse.

For the first time in decades, the hundreds of Soldiers who annually take the 25P Microwave Systems Operator-Maintainer course at the U.S. Army Signal Center can get hands-on training using the same state-of-the-art commercial-off-the-shelf equipment they'll encounter in the field--thanks to the completion of a four-year modernization of the classroom equipment by the 25P instructor staff with a little help from their friends at the Product Manager, Defense Wide Transmission Systems, part of the Project Manager, Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems.

The $10.4 million hardware upgrade has stocked the 25P classrooms with the same modern equipment that Soldiers in the 25P military occupational specialty will install, configure, operate, and maintain in military technical control facilities around the world--including data communications equipment, Integrated Data Network Service/Promina multiservice access platforms, encryption devices, Internet Protocol switch/alarm systems, asynchronous transfer mode/synchronous optical networking switching, microwave radios and matrix switching.

"It's a night-and-day difference from the old, grey, mechanical 'MIL-Standard' equipment we previously had," said Ronald Schumpf, chief of the 15th Signal Brigade's Switching, Transmission and Microwave Systems Division. "The old equipment had manual dials, switches, and patching, and there was just wire--spaghetti--everywhere. It was like we were still teaching black and white TV while (those on) the field were running around with Dick Tracy TV wrist watches."

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The 25P course had fallen behind, according to Schumpf and training specialist Clyde Page, because of the proliferation of commercial-off-the-shelf equipment used worldwide in military tech control facilities--the communications hubs of installations--had outpaced the process used to define requirements and program money for those requirements for the schoolhouse.

"The COTS explosion was quicker than what was documented in the ORD (Operational Requirements Document) for new equipment in the classrooms," said Page. "By the time we POMed (submitted a Program Objectives Memorandum, the basis for budgeting money in Department of Defense) and programmed money for it, the equipment requirements were obsolete and shot down--and understandably so."

Collaboration with many

Schumpf said the solution was the result of a "brainstorm" Page had in 2004, when he was a noncommissioned officer instructor in the-then 31P Microwave Systems Operator-Maintainer course (the 31P MOS was re-designated the 25P MOS in a recent restructuring of Army military occupational specialties). Page, said Schumpf, took it upon himself to design state-of-the-art classrooms and then devise out-of-the-box methods to acquire the modern equipment to stock the classrooms.

"Mr. Page is a wonder, his brainstorm is behind the modern networks in today's classrooms," said Schumpf. "He worked tirelessly to design and engineer how the rooms should be equipped, where every wire should be, and then he worked out innovative ways to acquire the equipment."

Page is quick to deflect credit for the upgrade. "This was accomplished only by collaborating with many, many others--the instructors, staff, and the training developers and commanders in the 15th Signal Brigade," he said, adding that he first encountered the need when he was an NCO at a tech control facility in Kuwait and was astounded to find that Soldiers reporting to him were totally unfamiliar with the equipment they were supposed to operate and maintain.

"I'd have to spend a lot of time training them," said Page. "I'd ask myself, 'What do they teach these guys?' Then when I got here and saw the equipment they had in the schoolhouse, it hit me like a ton of bricks. We all knew we had to do something about it."

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Page said the catalyst that sparked the process was when the course chiefs learned that about $6 million worth of surplus equipment from the Pentagon renovation was available for the 25P course's use.

"That was the true trigger that put the goal of updating the course within reach," said Page.

They added to that windfall about $462,000 funding from Fort Gordon and $2.6 million from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Then Page and the course chiefs contacted PM DWTS, which filled in the gaps and contributed $1.3 million in equipment and installation and training services.

"The 25P instructors and the 518th Tactical Installation Networking Company also pitched in," said Schumpf, "rolling up their sleeves and contributing some 20 man-years of work to install the new equipment. The 25P instructors did this on their own time, in addition to teaching their full course loads--and those guys from the 518th were amazing, they put this place together for us."

On June 20, LTC Clyde Richards, the PM DWTS, and Eileen Francesconi, PM DWTS' project leader for the 25P modernization project, met with COL. Frank Penha, commander of the 15th Signal Brigade, Schumpf, Page and the instructors of the 25P course. Schumpf and Page explained to them that in 2001, TRADOC's Critical Task/Site Selection Board had identified 35 critical tasks that a Microwave Systems Operator-Maintainer needs to be trained to accomplish, but that the course was able to train to the standard in only 16 of these 35 tasks--only 46 percent. Now, thanks to the 25P course modernization, they are able to train to the standard in 32 of 35 critical tasks--up to 91 percent. But that 91 percent is misleading, because of the remaining three tasks, one task is on equipment which can't be obtained because it is obsolete; another task calls for training on equipment which they do not have, but the point is moot because, due to fiscal restraints, TRACOC prohibits the "course growth" needed to train it; and the third task, they can't cannot devote time to, because, again, it would require "course growth"--but they expect this task to disappear from the curriculum when the next CT/SSB is held. So they have, for all intents and purpose, achieved 100 percent in training to standard for the critical tasks of a 25P.

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Penha thanked Richards and Francesconi for their help in solving "the age old problem" of properly training Soldiers. Richards pledged to continue to do all that he could. "This is a significant part of the equation of what a PM needs to do," said Richards. "We can't just field equipment--Soldiers need to be trained on the equipment they're going to use in the fight."

"Without the help of DCATS/ DWTS, we would not be able to do this," said Schumpf.

"I'll do anything I can to help--I can't see sending Soldiers to assignments without the right training, not when their lives can depend on it," said Francesconi--"and the lives of others," added Page.

A modern training facility that can emulate what field commanders use or need

Schumpf, Page, and the 25P instructors then took Richards and Francesconi on a tour of the 25P classrooms, culminating in the room containing what they call the "ICTS"--Integrated Communications Transmissions System--which includes all the equipment a Soldier would find in a modern tech control facility. "You know those charts where there's a cloud that represents the GIG (Global Information Grid)?" asked Page. "Well in the ICTS, we've 'drawn out' the networks in that cloud with actual equipment and can emulate those networks here."

Students SGT Sean Diemler, PVT Eric Sheese, and PVT Ronald Desoto were configuring the system in the ICTS so they could communicate with a "data package," a portable system at the other end of the building that simulated comms out in a field environment.

"This practical exercise is like a final exam," said Page. "Their whole mission with this training scenario is to get the two internet protocol routers to talk to each other--the router here and the router in the data package, which is with another group of Soldiers down the hall, but for all intents and purposes, it could be five miles down the road in a tent."

Thanks to the training they were receiving, Diemler, Sheese, and Desoto felt confident they could do their jobs as 25P's when they reached the field. "I feel I've gained a lot of knowledge," said Sheese. "The instructors are great, both civilian and military."

Were they aware how lucky they were to be among the first Soldiers trained on this equipment, the actual equipment they would encounter in the field, instead of old MIL-Standard dinosaur-age boxes on which previous classes trained? Yes, said Desoto, explaining "An instructor told us how, when he got to the field years ago, they sat him down with a stack of TMs (technical manuals) and said, 'Ok, you have two days to get this Tech Control Facility up and running.' So we've definitely got it a lot better than that."

Where does the 25P course go from here? Page said the 15th Signal Brigade personnel were continuing to refine both the lesson plans and hardware installation and awaiting the results from the upcoming CT/ SSB before recommending additional changes. In the short-term, they were seeking SONET subject matter expertise for lesson plan development, and that PM DWTS was helping by providing Instructor and Key Personnel training--sort of training the trainers--so the 25P instructors could properly train the new SONET equipment to the students.

According to Page, they have engineered and installed the new systems in the 25P classes so they can support system interconnection with a wide variety of equipment used by other MOSs--the 25F Network Switching Systems Operator-Maintainer, 25N Nodal Network Systems Operator-Maintainer, and 25Q Multi-channel Transmission Systems Operator-Maintainer, as well as by the Advanced Noncommissioned Officers Course, the Basic Noncommissioned Officers Course and the warrant officers course based on availability.

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"The big picture ...?" Page asked himself. "One, we now have a modern facility that can emulate, in a training environment, exactly what those commanders use or need in the field. And two--a possible scenario--we could support a deploying unit that wanted to configure and test their equipment. If they pulled up with their JNN (Joint Network Node), they could receive simulated NIPRNET (Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network), SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network) and DSN (Defense Switched Network) access--it's possible because of what we've installed."

For now, they have to grow into their new capabilities and see where those capabilities can take them, keeping their eyes on their target of training the best signal Soldiers in the world.

"In the training world, with this new equipment, we're at the relative stage of development of an adolescent," said Page. "Thanks to PM DWTS, we have everything we need now to become an adult; we just need a little time to figure out the world around us and how to best train the Soldier."

ACRONYM QUICKSCAN

ATM--asynchronous transfer mode

COTS--commercial-off-the-shelf

CT--Critical Task

DoD--Department of Defense

DSN--Defense Switched Network

GIG--Global Information Grid

IDNX--Integrated Data Network Service

IKP--Instructor and Key Personnel

ICTS--Integrated Communications Transmission Systems

IP--internet protocol

JNN--Joint Network Node

MOS--military occupational specialty

NCO--non-commissioned officer

NIPRNET--Non-secure Internet Protocol Router Network

ORD--Operational Requirements Document

PM DCATS--Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems

PM DWTS--Product Manager, Defense Wide Transmission Systems

POMed--Program Objectives Memorandum

SIPRNET--Secret Internet Protocol Router Network

SONET--synchronous optical networking

SSB--Site Selection Board

TM--training manual

TRADOC--Training and Doctrine Command

Mr. Larsen ia a public affairs officer with Program Manager, Defense Communications and Army Transmission Systems, Fort Monmouth, N.J.
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Author:Larsen, Stephen
Publication:Army Communicator
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2007
Words:1851
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