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LandWarNet: is your IT workforce ready?

When someone in your unit inadvertently erases the entire battalion operations database, would you prefer to request restoration of the database from the Department of Defense (DOD) enterprise help desk, which is operated by a DOD employee or contractor miles away, or from your own resident information technology (IT) personnel? Most would prefer someone on site. So how can your unit continue to maintain an effective IT workforce? This article explores changes in the network, identifies some of the challenges units are facing, and offers some suggestions on how to prepare your IT workforce.

LandWarNet is the Army's part of the DOD IT infrastructure that enables operational forces to "reach back" for information in the form of high-definition intelligence products, voice, video, and figures. Since LandWarNet's inception in February 2004, its growth has spiraled, tackling one milestone at a time.

One crucial milestone was to prepare the workforce responsible for the inner workings of the operation. As specified in DOD Directive (DODD) 8570.1, Information Assurance Training, Certification, and Workforce Management Directive, DOD devised a 5-year plan to upgrade its workforce "with the knowledge, skills and tools to effectively prevent, deter, and respond to threats against DOD information, information systems, and information infrastructures." In short, DOD requires its IT workforce to have and sustain commercial IT industry standard certifications.

So how does that apply to your unit? With LandWarNet, a unit needs more than an appointment letter, familiarization training, and on-the-job training to have access privileges. Today, you have to meet all the new requirements specified in DODD 8570.1 if you want to have an effective IT workforce that can meet your unit's IT demands. Otherwise, your unit must rely heavily on outside sources to meet its communication and automation needs.

More IT Products

What has changed in the Army's network? One immediate change is that computers, collaborative suites (such as Adobe NetMeeting and Microsoft Breeze), and Army Battle Command System (ABCS) equipment are available in all units from the brigade to the company level.

LandWarNet delivers services directly to the war-fighters. Because of this increased capability, the number of IT products to manage has increased exponentially. From the perspective of those on the ground, the amount of new products and services seems overwhelming. During my tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 08-10 with the 16th Sustainment Brigade, at least two dozen programs were introduced to either the Army or brigade- and battalion-level units.

Modularity is one of the reasons for the increase in the number of IT products at the brigade and battalion levels. To keep up with all the changes that modularity presents, a unit should document them. As easy as that sounds, many units go through the toil of research and other bureaucratic steps to fix a problem or install a service but fail to document their solutions. During our tour, we could have saved a lot of time if we had used a spreadsheet of port numbers and other specifications to help us describe the new systems to the network administrator responsible for configuring the firewall.

Another reason for the increase in IT products is the Army's effort to procure commercial off-the-shelf equipment that applies the concept of "everything over Internet protocol (EOIP)." This concept has brought an avalanche of new products, such as voice over IP telephones, video over IP, video teleconference (VTC) suites over IP, and even radio over IP products. To its credit, the Army has chosen, as part of its strategic goals, to replace many of the old proprietary systems with comparable EOIP equipment that is easier to install and manage and complements an emerging broadband-data-capable world.

EOIP equipment presents a few challenges to brigades and battalions. Units used to have total control over most of the systems mentioned above. Most electronics now have IP addresses. In the past, equipment like VTC suites, secure telephone equipment (STE), and conference calling equipment just needed an active telephone line to operate. Today, LandWarNet provides the same services but with a subtle price: a unit does not have total control over the product. The unit cannot relocate its VTC suite to the conference room downstairs or move a secure telephone to another area without calling the network service center (NSC) to make the necessary changes to allow this to happen. In contrast, STE could be moved with the approval of the unit's security manager.

Another big change is that a unit does not own its portion of the network. This includes its organic signal assets. Gone are the days when a unit could bring its own equipment, set it up according to its standing operating procedures, and then contract for services to a local strategic entry point (STEP) or tunnel through another Internet service provider (ISP) for access to the larger network. LandWarNet's goal is to "develop and maintain a secure, seamless, interdependent LandWarNet network by leading development and enforcing the use of integrated enterprise architecture." This is a difficult concept for units to accept, but just like the equipment, Soldiers must also evolve. Units must move their focus from owning the equipment to understanding that they are part of a larger network with the shared risk and vulnerabilities associated with the digital world.

Enterprise Architecture

I deployed to Iraq in support of OIF 08-10 with the 16th Special Troops Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade. It was my second time deploying to this region, and the way we managed the network was at times extremely different from the first time. As we sat around the table for our first contingency operating base (COB) S-6 meeting, the first thing I noticed was that this was not an all-Army network. Being a product of the mobile subscriber equipment (MSE) days, I was used to fielding our own Army-driven network. This time, we shared the network with DOD civilians and service members from other branches and this entity called the "enterprise."

Although the enterprise was not a person, we talked about it a lot as we all came to grips with the reality of the new enterprise architecture. The issue of who did what--ownership--also frequently entered our conversations. To figure out ownership, most people need a reference point: the Army does it this way, or the Air Force this way. So which way is right? The framers of the LandWarNet concept anticipated this situation and opted for a centralized approach through the NSCs. As most units that have deployed are finding out, they are not in charge of the network or even their part of the network, although they can negotiate many of the terms.

So What Do Signal Soldiers Do?

I would be less than truthful in saying that we had a lot of IT work to do during our OIF 08-10 deployment. The NSC did most of the work for us. We spent our time trying to avoid duplication of effort. This was frustrating to a lot of the signal Soldiers, but it was an unfortunate side effect of change. We are undoubtedly heading in the right direction despite the drastic decline in IT work at the unit level.

Managers on the ground should establish memorandums of agreement to share the work and give the trained pools of Soldiers the opportunity to participate and excel in group projects.

A good time to share the workload is when there is a surge in personnel and extra labor is needed to prepare computers, improve the wiring of a building, or install communications equipment in a new building. In a deployed location, many jobs could be assigned to signal Soldiers to keep them proficient in their skills. Units should communicate what resources they have and offer them to their NSC. By seeking solutions jointly and sharing the work, an organization and its NSC can create a working relationship that can ultimately benefit signal Soldiers and their customers.

Our brigade S-6 section (especially the noncommissioned officers), in coordination with our COB NSC, did a great job of rewiring, documenting, and installing new services to buildings on the COB. No one told them to do it; they did it to provide services to the warfighter. Improvements were seen all over the COB, and lessons learned were used to help design the internal infrastructure of new buildings.

Obtaining Certification

As DOD specifies, and as Soldiers of units that have returned from the war zone have found out, no one is exempt from the IT workforce requirements. All personnel who support the global information grid must meet the certification requirements.

The good news is that the Army and DOD have many resources for supporting Soldier certification efforts. During our deployment, we found that trying to get certified is time consuming and challenging. Both our Soldiers and training managers were busy preparing themselves through various methods. Some Soldiers enrolled in IT programs offered by colleges and universities. Others used self-study methods to prepare for their certifications. During the deployment, my unit purchased IT study kits, started a testing center, and formed study groups to help those who wanted assistance with their self-study efforts.

Starting a test center was easier than I thought, although on occasion we had to call the technical assistance desk for help. Fortunately, they were helpful and patient enough to assist us in establishing our authorized test center. Eventually, we got our test center up and running. Most of the personnel who used the facility appreciated having a test center on the COB. The alternative would have been to travel to another COB, which in some cases would have removed personnel from their primary jobs for several days or even weeks. At the beginning, about six individuals took the test and 50 percent passed. Although this was not bad, we immediately started to find ways to improve the pass rate, such as establishing study groups.

During our tour, we hosted 4 study groups, which amounted to about 40 students who would come to our afterwork classes 3 days a week. We called these study groups instead of instructional classes because we did not have certified instructors to teach Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) Network+, CompTIA Security+, or other classes. The percentage of those passing the certification test improved slightly but not enough.

We ordered training materials from Carnegie Mellon University, which provides DODD 8570.1 training. Although their classes are delivered via the Web, in our bandwidth-challenged environment the courses often took a long time to download, which was distracting for students.We contacted Carnegie Mellon University, and they provided us with the same course content on a DVD. With their permission, we duplicated the DVD for more than 124 personnel.

Many of our Soldiers thought the DVDs were a great source of information that gave them a "hands on approach" when participating in demonstrations and labs (also included on the DVD). Most appreciated having an actual instructor giving them a lecture on the subject instead of just reading it out of a study kit. With the DVDs, we received the preparatory courses on Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) Network+, CompTIA Security+, Cisco Certified Network Associate, and even Certified Information System Security Professional. If students purchased the same comparable instructional DVDs in the commercial market, they would pay more than $5,000.

Making the IT Workforce Successful

How can a unit posture its IT workforce to succeed in accordance with DOD 8570. l-M, Information Assurance Workforce Improvement Program? Thanks to the input I received from other warrant officers and other IT professionals, I offer these suggestions:

[] Survey your IT infrastructure, add the training required to manage your IT assets (such as boot camps and official courseware), and remember that this is an annual requirement.

[] Keep up with the efforts of the Signal Center and the Army Training and Doctrine Command, and adjust your training plans accordingly.

[] Find the DODD 8570.1 training being offered in your region. If you do not know where to ask, then try your servicing NSC for help.

[] Become familiar with DOD and Army Information Assurance best practices and incorporate them into your training plans and SOPs.

[] Appoint a training manager for your IT workforce.

[] Your training manager should register all of his workforce through the Army Training and Certification website.

[] Counsel the members of your workforce on the training requirements for their duty position, set a deadline to get the training completed, and hold them accountable.

[] Request free vouchers from your unit or training NCO for your Soldiers and DOD civilians.

[] Notify your direct reporting unit or Army command of your IT workforce posture, and work out a streamlined agreement for managing your own subunit. (Remember to present your proposal as a win-win situation, and ensure that you work together as one team to operate, maintain, and protect the network.)

[] Establish a working relationship with a good IT certification training program. (You may be able to work with other units, piggyback on their training, and learn from their challenges.)

[] Locate a test center nearby so that you can arrange for your Soldiers to test when they are ready.

[] Recruit local talent from your IT workforce or from Reserve Component Soldiers who may be qualified to provide such training in their civilian jobs.

[] Invest in IT self-study certification kits, which will not only serve as ready-reference material for your IT personnel but will also provide material for those who have the desire to study on their own.

Lieutenant General Jeffrey A. Sorenson, the Department of the Army G-6, has observed, "Because the Army is moving to a modular, expeditionary force, LandWarNet must follow suit and become more streamlined through an enterprise structure. The Army plans to achieve that goal with the use of the network service centers, which federate networks and creates a seamless network wherever a Soldier is." While these changes bring great advantages, they can leave sustainment units feeling that they have lost a level of control over their communications. The solution is to train the IT workforce to operate in the new environment.

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Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Walters, Dannie
Publication:Army Sustainment
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
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