Sailors return from IT duty

Navy NMCI site

This summer, the Navy welcomes back the first group of sailors to complete a two-year rotation with companies in the high-tech industry.

The industry rotation is part of a unique training program intended to develop a skilled cadre of network administrators. The sailors will take their experiences back to a sea rotation, in which they will serve as network administrators and information technology specialists.

The seashore rotation schedule, in which sailors spend one tour of duty at sea followed by another on land, includes an option for an onshore training tour with EDS or an EDS subcontractor. The company is the prime contractor for the Navy Marine Corps Intranet program.

"Part of the NMCI contract, since its inception, called for specialized training," said Navy Lt. Antonio Scurlock, head of network-centric training for the Naval Network and Space Operations Command. "This is designed specifically for NMCI, which makes us a bit ahead of the game."

In the 2-year-old program, sailors learn to assist NMCI users and to perform the jobs of network administrators. Their training is divided among base operations, help-desk support and network operation center management.

Scurlock said a lot of people are watching this program to determine if other parts of the Navy or the other armed services can implement it.

Rear Adm. John Cryer, commander of the Naval Network and Space Operations Command, said having a highly trained cadre of sailors to handle technical problems would increase the Navy's overall IT capability and decrease the response time for the fleet.

"We want to get smart on NMCI," Cryer said. "We want to create the 'top guns' in the [IT] field."

Petty Officer Anthony Romero, who will be one of the first to complete his training and return to sea, said working alongside industry colleagues provides him and his peers with the latest training and will qualify them to handle IT problems that arise at sea.

"I spent the first year and a half in deck and wasn't challenged enough," said Romero, talking about operating and maintaining a ship. "What we have received is good training and it helps us to be at a desk, talking to users, trying to help them troubleshoot their problems."

Eric Wishard, another petty officer and pioneer in the IT training program, said the training will provide the Navy with more educated sailors. The sailors have opportunities to further their Navy careers and learn a trade that will benefit them if they decide not to remain in the Navy.

Like the NMCI program in general, the training had a somewhat rocky start, Wishard said, because the contractor and sailors had to learn their respective roles.

"The program started out a little rough, but it's turned around, and it's starting to go in the right direction," Wishard said. "In two to three years, the Navy will see some real results. We're just the start of this, and we're getting the ball rolling."

Both Romero and Wishard are assigned to the network operations center in Norfolk, Va.

If sailors agree to undergo the two-year assignment and extra training, they must also agree to sign on for another hitch in the Navy, Scurlock said. The Navy doesn't want to pay to train people just to send them out to the private sector, he said.

Charlie Richardson, chairman of the National Training Systems Association's industry executive committee and a vice president at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, said training military personnel is becoming a more common requirement in defense contract negotiations with vendors.

"EDS and its team of experts can add great value to the contract through this training," he said. "It will help the ultimate user — the fleet — to use that capability and determine where the military sends its people."

Richardson said that fulfilling a contract and then turning over a product or service, from computer systems to weapons platforms, without adequate training would be a disservice to the Defense Department.

"Training these days is absolutely critical to the military to get the most value from the contracts it awards," he said. "What you never want is to develop a product or capability, toss it over the transom, say, 'Here it is,' and walk away."

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