by SSG Jack Siemieniec
FORT A.P. HILL, Va. � Leveraging new technology to accomplish the mission, 311th Theater Signal Command used the web to replace its time-honored message center.
During Grecian Firebolt 2001 � a multicomponent, multiservice training exercise � 311th communicated with its subordinate units and higher headquarters through web-based reporting on a secure network.
"This is a good system. Prior to all this, we had to rely on email, faxes, a secure phone that may or may not work," said CPT Terri McCord. She was the exchange/web administrator for the exercise.
McCord said another advantage is the ability to make changes if there are errors.
"Maybe you didn�t enter the information accurately the first time, but this way allows you to input your information and before you submit, you can make any changes necessary," she continued. "When you send a fax, it�s gone. This way, it�s gone too, but this allows you to modify."
"The best thing about this is once you report it, everything is visible to any user of the secure Internet protocol routed network," explained SFC Patricia Marrero. "Now everything is web-based." Marrero, a military-occupation specialty 74B (programmer/analyst), served as an exchange/web assistant for the Grecian Firebolt exercise, which ran from June 15-30.
The 311th, an Army Reserve unit based at Fort Meade, Md., was the executive agent for Grecian Firebolt. As such, it was tasked by its higher headquarters, Army Signal Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., with the planning, command and control of the worldwide signal exercise.
Units from Korea to Puerto Rico and across the continental United States submitted status reports dealing with personnel and their locations, supply and communications to the Grecian Firebolt network. The reports could be instantaneously collated to provide an overall picture of the exercise to decision-makers and other interested parties.
Army Signal Command�s Directorate of Information Management administered the website from its Fort Huachuca location.
There were also a number of other documents available for viewing on the secure network created as a product of the training exercise. Fragmentary orders, training objectives, situation reports of 311th and its subordinate brigades, and even the daily command briefing were there for access.
"This has been a real asset for me since I�m new to the unit, because I can learn a lot more about what�s going on without having to ask everyone all the time," said Marrero.
"At other units where I was before, I used to work at the message center. I�d receive a fax; the fax goes to the message center. So I�d see it and see I�d have to send one to the S-1 (personnel), S-2 (intelligence) and S-3 (supply and logistics). So I�d go make photocopies. Then I�d go to the S-1 box, put one copy, one copy, one copy. Then the S-1, 2 and 3 would have to come over and see �have I got anything?� In between there would be a few minutes.
"With (web-based) reporting, you�re taking away that message-center staff," Marrero said.
She explained that since this was a new innovation for the exercise, there was a short learning curve at the outset to educate users on how to access the system, but after the first day or two that problem was erased.
First-time users were instructed to install a Java plug-in to use the site.
Marrero said that as the exercise progressed, suggestions were being submitted along with the twice-daily reports, and improvements were made to the system.
"You can use it anytime, from any machine that�s hooked up to the network. That�s what I like about the system. It�s there and it�s available and it�s good. It�s very good," Marrero said.
"It allows everyone to know what�s going on at all times," McCord added, "instead of waiting for a fax that may not come."
SSG Siemieniec is a Reservist assigned to Army Signal Command.
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