Interoperability may hold key to retention

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — A major military communications exercise under way

here may hold the key to curtailing the record number of people leaving

the military because of too much time spent away from home.

Military officials taking part in Combined Endeavor 2000, a communications

exercise involving soldiers and equipment from 35 nations, said test results

may show the United States and other NATO nations how to reduce the personnel

and equipment needed to maintain military communications networks during

crises such as those in Bosnia and Kosovo.

The problem, officials said, is that too often the communications equipment

purchased by different militaries around the world does not conform to the

same standards, requiring nations to deploy extra personnel and equipment

to ensure network support. Combined Endeavor is designed to fix those problems.

"The simple answer is interoperability," said Army Lt. Col. Ronald Stimeare,

exercise director for CE 2000, referring to the process of making sure the

communications systems from NATO nations are able to work together. "People

are getting out [of the military]. When asked why, the answer they give

is, "I'm always in the field; I'm always deployed. My wife is ready to leave

me and my kids don't know who I am.' "

In particular, Stimeare is referring to the cadre of high-tech communications

specialists who are not only in high demand these days from their military

masters but are also "very marketable" in the private sector.

Stimeare, who last year served as technical director for the exercise,

said it costs far less to develop an interface card to a communications

system than it does to send troops and equipment every time they are needed

to set up and maintain a network. "To me, that's the blinding flash of the

obvious," he said.

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