Marines merge high tech with smarts to upgrade telecom

CAMP FOSTER Okinawa - As the chief communicator for the seven Marine Corps bases scattered down the length of this subtropical island that serves as the home of the forward-deployed III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) Lt. Col. Jerry Baigis is in charge of developing what is the equivalent of a combined local telephone company and Internet service provider for Marine and private use.

Baigis is upgrading the communications infrastructure on Okinawa where more than 15 000 Marines are strategically stationed near potential hot spots in mainland Asia. But the biggest challenge Baigis - who takes over as assistant chief of staff for command control and communications for Marine Corps Bases Japan on May 30 - has faced is providing telecommunications for the Marines and their families on the island.

The base shop has responsibility for providing voice video and data communications to official users within III MEF as well as to families and individual Marines living in base housing and barracks. "We have about 8 500 unofficial telephone subscribers and about 2 000 Internet subscribers " Baigis said. Those unofficial users who write a check every month for phone and Internet service serve as an impetus to developing a service-oriented organization because they will complain if not satisfied Baigis said.

Technical Advancement

Both types of users benefited from a recent upgrade of the telephone switch on the island which catapulted Marine users here from 1950s-era cross-bar technology to what Baigis called "the most technically advanced switch in all of" the Defense Department. The switch a Northern Telecom DMS-100 that cost more than $14 million has provided the Marines with a "head start on the next century " said Col. John Murray who will retire this week as chief of staff for command control and communications.

The switch serves as the central hub for an islandwide Metropolitan Area Network that Murray called "the largest network in the Marine Corps."With the main switch on-line Baigis now plans to turn his attention to upgrading the remote switches at the bases - a multiple-year project he estimated will cost $24 million.

Todd Eddy a civilian who serves as telecommunications systems branch head said the Marines also plan to upgrade the cable infrastructure eventually installing high-speed OC-12 circuits among all the major camps and bases with digital microwave links installed for the more remote camps. From there Eddy said the operation wants to install a fiber network on every base and camp so that eventually users will plug their desktop and laptop computers into a high-speed network that reaches from the most remote facility here back to commanders in Washington D.C. through the Defense Information Systems Network.

Financing Plans

This infrastructure improvement project carries a big price and Baigis plans to self-finance a portion of it through his unofficial users. He figures that astute management will provide about "a million dollars a year in profit" from his unofficial phone service which he then plans to plow into upgrading the Okinawa network.

Warren Suss president of Warren H. Suss Associates a telecommunications consulting firm in Jenkintown Pa. called this innovative approach to financing "a reflection of the times but also an excellent idea.... Agencies across the government are looking for ways to make money. Why not sell telecommunications to base housing?


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