Army unit provides comm support to forces in the Gulf
- By Bob Brewin
- Apr 25, 1999
KUWAIT - Camp Doha, the 500-acre warehouse complex that serves as the U.S. Army headquarters west of Kuwait City, houses an impressive array of vehicles and finely maintained equipment - including computers - to outfit an entire armored brigade. In case of an incident, all the Army has to do is fly in soldiers, and it is ready to roll.
The mission of the Army's 54th Signal Battalion, based at Camp Doha, is to provide communications and computer support to Army units - not only in Kuwait but throughout the Persian Gulf. Because the 54th wants to ensure redundancy of communications, it also provides tactical communications to the Kuwait Ministry of Defense in downtown Kuwait City. "This has to be one of the few places in the world [where] the Army provides tactical circuits into a city," said Staff Sgt. John O'Keefe, who noted that the Army uses Vietnam War-era gear to provide that link.
The more than 200 personnel in the 54th have a wide range of missions, according to Col. Terry Schroeder, director of command, control and communications for the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) Kuwait. The 54th serves as the "executive agent" for the U.S. forces for all communication systems in the entire Persian Gulf area of operations - 800,000 square miles in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.
This requires the 54th to manage and operate equipment ranging from tactical satellite terminals and field microwave gear to a recently installed wideband satellite terminal in Kuwait, according to Lt. Col. Jim Duffy, commander of the 54th. "We're a tactical unit performing a strategic mission," Duffy said, "and we provide those strategic services down to the foxhole, including [Secret Internet Protocol Router Network] and [Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network]."
The 54th also operates intertheater tactical networks, provides strategic connectivity through Defense Satellite Communications System terminals and the Commercial Satellite Communications Initiative, and operates the Network Operations Center.
Duffy and his troops also perform missions not ordinarily handled by an Army signal battalion. They provide circuits for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and they installed and manage a 30-channel cable TV system at Camp Doha. The 54th also installed and manages the local-area network that serves the CJTF staff, which includes personnel from Kuwait, Australia, Britain and New Zealand.
To accomplish all these tasks, the 54th uses a nontraditional approach. It outsources total support at Camp Doha to ITT Industries Inc., which, through a unique agreement, provides services at the camp ranging from gate guards to vehicle maintenance and repair to support for the 54th and its Kuwait-based subordinate unit, the 385th Signal Company. The more than 120 ITT contractors who provide the support "are my soldiers, and they work for my [noncommissioned officers] who oversee day-to-day operations," Duffy said.
ITT has assigned more than 30 civilians to support the director of information management (DOIM) shop and has helped complete a recent upgrade of the Camp Doha LAN. This LAN serves 1,200 NIPRNET users and 300 SIPRNET users over 25 miles of cable, said Capt. Fritz McNair, the 54th's DOIM. During surge periods, when the Pentagon moves additional troops into Kuwait, the Camp Doha LAN - which McNair plans to upgrade from Ethernet to Gigabit Ethernet - can accommodate as many as 2,200 users.
John Shimonsky, chief of the ITT information management branch at Camp Doha, said his company supports the 54th and the 385th in all their missions, performing services that range from helping to install and maintain the LAN to operating the telephone switchboard to buying computers, including a recent upgrade of about 700 computers.
ITT prefers to buys computers on the local market for speed of delivery, Shimonsky said. Tapping into standard Army contracts takes too long, especially when factoring in the need for all shipments to go through Kuwaiti customs.
The real test of the 54th's ability to deliver communications "down to the foxhole" lies not in the office compound at Camp Doha but in the desert with the infantry, which operates 25 miles south of the Iraqi border. The 385th operates two circuits - a tactical satellite link for data and a microwave relay shot for voice - from Camp Doha to the headquarters of the Intrinsic Action Task Force.
Lt. Wayne Short, task force signal officer for the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, has no complaints about the service provided by the 385th to the IATF. "The network has been solid since we arrived here," Short said. "There have been no outages."
Capt. John Bishop, the 3-15's intelligence officer, revels in his ability to tap into SIPRNET from the operations tent in the desert. "I'm the first S2 that ever had secure comm in the base camp," Bishop said, which means he can tap into the Global Command and Control System's Common Operational Picture as well as easily surf secure World Wide Web pages for "timely" intelligence data that previously was delivered to the IATF by courier. The secure satellite link also provides him with the equally important ability to receive secure e-mail messages with Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint slide attachments as large as 8M. "We are a PowerPoint Army," Bishop said.
Sand in the Works
With all the high-powered connectivity and bandwidth, troops in the IATF find that they face many of the same problems that bedeviled troops during Operation Desert Storm: equipment shortages, maintenance issues and lack of adequate training for many systems. Their commercial office PCs suck in dust that clogs keyboards, hard drives and floppy drives.
"These computers are not designed for use in a field environment," said Capt. Chris Brookie, the 3-15's supply officer, whose troops use PCs to track spare parts and supplies. "Sand gets into the drives, and you can't cover the PC because of concerns about the heat. Multiple moves create more problems."
Every unit also has stories about systems or equipment delivered without manuals or adequate training. Expensive boxes sit unused or underutilized because the units cannot spare the people to send home for training, and no training material comes with the equipment. One Navy network specialist spent more than $1,000 of his own money to buy manuals and training to keep up with Information Technology for the 21st Century equipment recently installed on his ship.
Concern is uniform throughout the Persian Gulf that there is not enough training, especially as systems become increasingly more sophisticated. The Air Force's 9th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, also based in Kuwait, had its mission expanded to detect Iraqi Scud tactical missile launches. This mission prompted the installation of new computer gear and systems, but it was accompanied by little training.
"People just drop stuff off here and expect us to be able to use it," said a technical sergeant who works in the squadron command post.