Needed: IM etiquette during mortar attacks; An idea for IDs; The bandwidth ‘social issue’; Absolutely agog over AHLTA

Needed: IM etiquette during mortar attacks
Maj. Susan Hardwick, the 7th Signal Brigade’s operations officer, said instant messaging applications available to troops deployed in Iraq help them stay connected with their families. But they have their downsides, including the need to quickly log off from a session because of incoming mortar rounds. Sometimes, she said, the ability to use instant messaging anywhere, anytime is not good.

Misty Alba, who runs family readiness support groups for the 5th Signal Command, said another form of electronic communications — e-mail — must be used carefully. She usually has a 15-minute daily phone call with her deployed husband, but she avoids having conversations via e-mail because they can lead to misunderstandings.

Alba said e-mail should only be used for light exchanges of greetings between deployed troops and their families, not for heavy topics.

An idea for IDs
Don’t leave your ID card in your computer. That’s the practical message from Capt. Barret Rhoden, operations and information security officer for the 7th Signal Brigade’s 44th Signal Battalion, as the Army prepares to require all soldiers to use public-key infrastructure technology to sign their e-mail messages and access the Non-secure IP Router Network.

To send secure e-mail messages, soldiers must insert smart ID cards into a reader connected to their computers. Soldiers in the 44th, which is ahead of much of the Army in the use of PKI technology, have learned the hard way to remove their cards from their computers before leaving the base.

Otherwise, Rhoden said, soldiers face a real hassle when trying to enter the post the next morning only to remember that their ID card is still in the computer.

The bandwidth ‘social issue’
Rhoden said 7th Signal Brigade units operating in Iraq and the 44th Signal Battalion, which returned to Germany from Afghanistan earlier this month, have too little bandwidth to support the number of users on the military’s satellite systems.

Rhoden said a love of Microsoft PowerPoint briefing slides — how did the Army do so well in World War II without them? — only exacerbates the bandwidth problem, with folks trying to “send a 20M briefing over a 1M pipe.” Rhoden doesn’t view this as a technology problem but rather a social issue that needs fixing.

How about a 12-step program for hopelessly addicted PowerPoint addicts?

Absolutely agog over AHLTA
During a speech at the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference, Dr. David Brailer, national health information technology coordinator at the Department of Health and Human Services, said he was taking calls during a PBS TV show on electronic health record systems when someone called in to praise the Defense Department’s Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application.

Brailer said he quickly understood why the caller had such nice things to say: The phone’s caller ID function showed a Pentagon number.

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Signal grunts?

Soldiers from the 7th Signal Brigade don’t usually have to think and act like grunts because they’re often in the rear with their gear. But not in Iraq, where soldiers from the brigade are part of the 5th Signal Command based at Mannheim, Germany.

Maj. Susan Hardwick, the brigade’s operations officer, said the unit encountered its share of improvised explosive devices while operating convoys during its yearlong tour in Iraq. She said the prevalence of the devices required the brigade to train its soldiers in infantry tactics far removed from their typical duties of maintaining and operating tactical satellite gear and network nodes.

The training included teaching them how to call for lifesaving medevac helicopters, operate convoys with heavily armed “gun trucks” and protect themselves during frequent mortar attacks while in garrison.

Since her return from Iraq, Hardwick said she continues to use a key grunt survival technique: When seated in a room, she always chooses to keep her back to the wall.

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