Communications challenges

FARWANIYA, Kuwait — One of my goals before arriving here was to do everything possible to report on the various information technology systems being used throughout the Defense Department by personnel from each of the military services.

So far, most of my stories have focused on Army systems that are often used in a joint environment, but today I was able to file my first Air Force-focused piece.

The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is a joint Army-Air Force program that cut its teeth during the first Gulf War and is now an integral part of the coalition's air campaign.

Air Force Lt. Col. Mick Quintrall, commander of 363rd Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron, is stationed at an air base somewhere in the desert of southwest Asia, so I was unable to conduct an interview with him directly. However, the very able Air Force public affairs officer (PAO) coordinated an interview via e-mail over the past few days, and the result is now available for you to read ["JSTARS keeps eye on enemy"].

Obviously, this is not the ideal way to do an interview. An in-person, sit-down interview is always my first choice, followed by a phone conversation, with e-mail as a last resort. But if I've learned anything during the past 10 days of "war reporting," it's that you take whatever contact you can get.

Another thing that needs to be recognized is the amazing job the coalition public affairs staff here is doing. These PAOs represent all the armed forces and are bombarded throughout the day and night by everyone from yours truly to CNN to Geraldo. (I told you nothing good would come of that.)

And although I've had the most success with the Army, that is also because I had the most contacts in that service before arriving here. The Air Force and Marine Corps PAOs have also done whatever they could to assist me, but it has been difficult. As one captain told me: "For the stories you want, you really should have been here two weeks before the war started."

That wasn't easy to hear. I told her that although that may be the case, there is nothing I could do about it now and anything she could do for me would be greatly appreciated.

My point in sharing this is to shed some light on why some services' IT systems and personnel are better represented in my stories than others. The same goes for the companies represented in these stories. Many contractors declined interview requests until they could get permission from their corporate headquarters or the military customer. Again, very understandable.

I'd like to add that the role of IT vendors supporting the war effort cannot be overstated, but don't take my word for it:

* "Contractors are an integral part of our team. We couldn't do what we're doing without them," said Army Maj. Forrest Burke, chief of logistics information management for Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

"Contractors are absolutely critical to our operations. Because of the advances in technology, contractors are critical to maintaining our relevance," said Army Maj. Gen. Rip Detamore, commander of the 335th Theater Signal Command at Camp Doha, Kuwait, which supports all Army land component communications as well as the CFLCC and all of its subordinate elements in southwest Asia.

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