Pervasive tech enemy in the Middle East: Sand

FARWANIYA, Kuwait — The sandstorms 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 terminal — the gateway to open and decrypt DMS messages and those of its predecessor, the Automatic Digital Network — is in the nearby Coalition Forces Land Component Command center and is even better 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 the 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," Bowman told Federal Computer Week in an e-mail message. "We also use static-free vacuum cleaners to help in the daily cleaning and maintaining efforts."

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