'Human interoperability' helps allies
- By Dan Verton
- May 18, 2000
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
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
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
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.