Constant enemy of military IT: sand

Army's Network Enterprise Technology Command

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FARWANIYA, Kuwait — The sand storms have died down, but despite the clearer skies and lack of wind, the military's information technology operators continue to battle the granules that try to infiltrate their systems.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Arthur Edgeson, the Army Defense Message System (DMS) Program Management Office representative from Fort Belvoir, Va., at Camp Doha, Kuwait, said most of the equipment is ruggedized already, but his team is doing "routine maintenance more often — cleaning and air blowing — because once sand gets in, you can't get it out."

"Tape drives are going all the time," said Edgeson, a senior systems engineer at Data Systems Analysts Inc. in Fairfax, Va. "But we're getting away from tape drives and going to more CD burning."

At Camp Doha, the "DMS shelter" houses three servers and is climate controlled and protected from the elements. The DMS terminal, which serves as the gateway for opening and decrypting DMS messages and those of its predecessor, the Automatic Digital Network, is in the nearby command center of the Coalition Forces Land Component Command and is even more well-protected, Edgeson said.

Back in the United States, Col. Mark Bowman, assistant chief of staff for operations, plans and training at the Army's Network Enterprise Technology Command, said that command's personnel routinely operate in harsh tactical conditions, including "hot, extremely humid areas, extremely cold areas, and hot dusty areas such as" the Central Command area of responsibility in the Middle East.

"There are more computers on the battlefields than ever before. We operate these in tents and shelters, which also use new technology with multiple layers to provide acceptable operating environments," Bowman told Federal Computer Week in an e-mail. "Our shelters are also environmentally controlled. That said, there is still great care used in keeping the computers clean and removing dust. We also use static-free vacuum cleaners to help in the daily cleaning and maintaining efforts."

Bowman said the environmentally controlled tents have been effective in operations associated with the global war on terrorism.

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