Sutten leads the evolution of the Army Signal Command
- By Bob Brewin
- Mar 09, 1997
FORT HUACHUCA Ariz. - To paraphrase Winston Churchill Maj. Gen. Charles Sutten did not intend to preside over the demise of the Army Signal Command (ASC) here when he took over as commanding general of its predecessor the Information Systems Command (ISC) in July 1995.
But Sutten faced a situation similar to the one Churchill confronted at the end of the Second World War: the sheer survival of his empire.
Shortly after his formal change of command ceremony in 1995 Sutten walked away from the pomp into a conference room where as he related it "there were a bunch of two- and three-star generals who wanted to make this entity go away."
ISC Sutten said as diplomatically as possible had reached a stage where the top Army commanders in the Continental United States had started to question its usefulness and responsiveness. Sutten made a pitch to save not the entire command but what he considered to be at its core: signal units scattered throughout the globe capable of supporting the Army's new doctrine to rapidly deploy CONUS-based units to trouble spots anywhere in the world.
Sutten said the new slimmed-down ASC evolved into an organization with what he called "a new customer orientation" and an "operational focus" toward warfighters worldwide. In many ways this mission mirrors Sutten's career which has emphasized tours with field signal units including the job as overall commander of all Army signal units in Operation Desert Storm. "I'm not a Washington guy nor am I an acquisition type " said Sutten who did his last Washington tour in 1988.
But he quickly noted that his assignments have taken him from the jungles of Vietnam to the sands of Saudi Arabia and the forests of Germany and these trips helped him develop the expertise and contacts he needed to shepherd ASC to its new focused mission.
Sutten said he has worked within every Joint Commanders in Chief office the military organizations that direct U.S. combat forces worldwide. That experience gave him the insight to understand that ASC has to focus its mission troops and communications assets on those commanders. "We can't exist in isolation anymore " Sutten said. "We have to be part of the process. We have to understand what they're doing in divisions and corps [and] work closely with other commands."
This includes ensuring that ASC units overseas - such as the 5th Signal Command in Germany which Sutten commanded before reporting to ASC and the 1st Signal Brigade in South Korea - work closely with top commanders in those theaters. It also means restructuring ASC units stationed in this country such as the 11th Signal Brigade to better support deployed forces.
In the case of the 11th Signal this meant shuffling equipment and personnel so deploying units could obtain a mix of heavy and light satellite communications gear to better support deploying forces.
From a technology perspective Sutten wants to push the integration of advanced technology into ASC's aging legacy systems. "We need to use [asynchronous transfer mode] technology and we have to incorporate it into the battlefield " Sutten said.
He added that he would also like to see all ASC units quickly take advantage of the technology-related lessons learned from the Bosnia deployment. For example he said he hoped units would install field fixes to use the Secret Tactical Packet Network to extend unclassified data streams - including the Internet - down to the foxhole.
From a policy perspective Sutten wants to work more closely with the Defense Information Systems Agency. From Sutten's perspective DISA and ASC need to develop an accommodation where each realizes that networks that extend onto the battlefield "are a shared responsibility."
"DISA needs to see our stuff and we need to see theirs " he said.
Sutten a West Point graduate wears both a Ranger Tab and a Parachutist Badge. But his off-duty interests run counter to the standard image of an Airborne Ranger type.
During his last tour in Germany Sutten became friends with the president of the German Wine Grape Growers Association which led to his new passion for wine.
Sutten's wife Sharon works as an English teacher which means diversion in their household comes from books not playing golf. Sutten said he splits his reading between page-turners from Tom Clancy and what he calls "worthwhile" literature.
How worthwhile? "I'm reading The Discourses by Epictetus " Sutten answered.
The following passages from The Discourses certainly sum up Sutten's career and his push to save ASC.
"Practice yourself for heaven's sake in little things and thence proceed to greater " Epictetus wrote. "To a reasonable creature that alone is unsupportable which is unreasonable but everything reasonable may be supported.