'Human interoperability' helps allies

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Tonight, in this sleepy town nestled in the German

countryside, the world will become a little safer. More than 700 military

communications specialists from 35 nations plan to take a break from a major

NATO military exercise and share a beer.

The social gathering is designed to allow the communicators taking part

in exercise Combined Endeavor 2000 to get to know each other on a personal

level. The underlying logic: "You can't shoot if you're talking."

A lot more than a standard communications exercise is happening here

in Baumholder.

The social events planned by NATO's German hosts, which include wine

tasting and tours of historic towns, are only part of what has created a

lasting "partnership for peace." The real difference seems to have come

from what is being called "human interoperability" rather than any one piece

of technology.

Over the past three days, I've discovered that despite the vast differences

in language, religion, customs, national wealth and military capabilities,

most of the soldiers gathered here are a lot alike and share similar frustrations.

They are all dealing with budget constraints that limit the quantity

and type of equipment they can buy. They all complain that operational commanders

do not understand the challenges faced by today's Information Age communicators.

They understand the importance of technology standards and aren't interested

in hand-me-down legacy systems. And most of them will tell you that long

deployments away from home are on the rise, and they place great strain

on their families.

Some countries are learning for the first time that they can participate

in large-scale multinational operations and make a difference. Others are

learning that although the United States is the undisputed technological

leader, it doesn't have all the answers and even lacks capabilities that

other European nations are developing. In essence, soldiers from 35 countries

are getting to know each other, and that will make me sleep a little easier

tonight.

After three days of traveling through the German countryside, from Rhein-Main

Air Base in Frankfurt to Combined Endeavor 2000 in Baumholder, my time in

Germany nears its end.

Next on my itinerary is NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. I go

armed with the knowledge that military communications and interoperability

is about more than buying the right systems. It's about people.

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