Contractors integral to wartime IT

Tapestry Solutions statement about Michael Pouliot

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FARWANIYA, Kuwait — Defense contractors are playing a critical role in establishing, operating and maintaining the array of information technology systems being used to support warfighters in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to military officials.

"Contractors are absolutely critical to our operations," said Army Maj. Gen. Rip Detamore, commander of the 335th Theater Signal Command at Camp Doha, which supports all Army land component communications as well as the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) and all of its subordinate elements in southwest Asia.

"Because of the advances in technology, contractors are critical to maintaining our relevance," said Detamore, a 57-year-old reservist who retired from active duty in 1997 and has been in Kuwait since November. "Many of them have been trained in the military and are coming back."

Army Maj. Forrest Burke, chief of logistics information management for CFLCC at Camp Arifjan, agreed. He said that the more than 4,000 computers and 100 servers running assorted logistics systems with local and worldwide data feeds would not be operational without the work of private-sector personnel.

"Contractors are an integral part of our team," Burke said, adding that aside from one other active-duty officer, no troops are assigned to his office at CFLCC permanently. "We couldn't do what we're doing without them."

Rolf Osteraas, a military analyst at Tapestry Solutions Inc., is one of the many vendors in Burke's shop. Tapestry developed the Joint Deployment and Logistics Model (JDLM), which is used for modeling and data mining and provides the graphical part of the tactical Logistics Common Operating Picture (LCOP). It displays vehicle and cargo movements on maps of southwest Asia down to satellite-level detail.

Osteraas and another Tapestry employees are based at Camp Arifjan and provide support at the base and in the field when necessary, he said. The San Diego-based company was touched by tragedy in January when its executive vice president and co-founder, Michael Pouliot, was killed in an ambush near Camp Doha. His colleague, software engineer David Caraway, also was wounded in the Jan. 21 attack.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Byers Coleman, the in-transit visibility (ITV) coordinator working on LCOP from Eagle Group International Inc., said the private sector is playing such a key role in this war because of the massive reductions in the DOD workforce over the past 20 years. Coleman said he came out of retirement after receiving a note from his son-in-law, who is an active Army officer, that pointed him toward open IT positions in southwest Asia.

Outside the CFLCC office and in a nearby warehouse, Randy Sawyers, field service representative for Comtech Mobile Datacom Corp., is helping install the Movement Tracking System (MTS) on hundreds of Army vehicles at Camp Arifjan. MTS consists of a mobile unit mounted on vehicles and a control station, which communicate with text messages using satellite connectivity on laptops loaded with digital maps, and are tracked via the Global Positioning System.

Sawyers said that in addition to installing the technology, the Germantown, Md.-based company is also providing around-the-clock customer support on the deployed vehicles.

Daniel Roelofs, regional manager for southwest Asia for Technical and Management Services Corp. (TAMSCO), said his company, which specializes in telecommunications, integrated logistics services, systems integration and electronics manufacturing, has about 40 employees in the war zone, most of whom arrived in the past eight months.

"Flexibility is the key to everything because customer requirements change almost on a daily basis," Roelofs said, adding that TAMSCO is actively working on multiple Army logistics and communications systems.

Irvin Robinson, TAMSCO's regional administrator for southwest Asia, said many of the 40 contractors from that firm are embedded with coalition forces. Those "mobile maintenance teams" are outfitted in full military protective gear but do not carry weapons.

The Army is also relying almost exclusively on contractors to manage and sustain its part of the Defense Message System (DMS).

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Arthur Edgeson is the senior systems engineer at Data Systems Analysts Inc. and the Army DMS Program Management Office representative at Camp Doha. He has a desk within the "DMS shelter" in a small office that he shares with contractors from ITT Industries Inc., which manages DMS for the Army in southwest Asia.

Edgeson, who retired from active military duty in August 2001 after 23 years of service, said he works from noon until midnight, and often longer, so that he can answer questions from both day- and night-shift personnel. He added that the ITT employees, who are charged with maintaining systems that rely on phone lines, are stationed there around the clock.

And besides the long hours and stressful environment, Edgeson said there is one other complicating factor that goes with being an IT contractor in a war zone: attempting to work on computers and other IT equipment while wearing chemical protection gear, a requirement during times of heightened security.

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