Reporter's Notebook: Kuwait Day One

Senior DOD reporter Dan Caterinicchia gets firsthand experience of IT in the Middle East after long trip to Kuwait

FARWANIYA, Kuwait — After 18 hours spent waiting in three airports and another 15 hours in the air from Washington, D.C., to New York to London to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, I arrived in Kuwait at about noon local time (4 a.m. EST). And yes, I even managed to pick up a few juicy tech nuggets along the way.

First, it isn't the Air Force's Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System or anything, but Emirates Air, which I flew from London to Dubai, maintains two outer cameras for the duration of its flights. One of the cameras displays what is in front of the plane and the other points straight down.

I would guess that an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance junkie would find that bird's-eye view of London, Europe and the Middle East a treasure trove of information. And talk about "high" tech: In addition to the ISR assets, Emirates Air also includes six movie channels, numerous TV and music stations and 18 video game choices at each seat, including my economy-class seat.

I arrived at the Crowne Plaza Kuwait, located just minutes from the airport but a good 20-minute taxi ride to where the TV anchors are broadcasting from Kuwait City.

However, it didn't take long for information technology — and alarms — to begin playing significant roles in my stay.

Within a half-hour of my arrival, the first of three consecutive air sirens sounded. The sounds caused the hotel staff, military guests and journalists to convene in the basement waiting for the all-clear.

Between those alarms, I was attempting to use the hotel's free Internet access to send some e-mail messages and overheard some troops complaining about Defense Department Web mail systems being slow — or perhaps even turned off by Central Command. I didn't have a chance to ask the soldiers which specific system was drawing their ire because another siren sent us back to the basement.

Now, it's 7:13 p.m. local time and here I sit alongside a 36-year-old Air Force staff sergeant, a postal specialist in Kuwait who normally is based at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. He is using a Microsoft Corp. Network e-mail account to stay in touch with his friends and family back home.

All military personnel were briefed upon arriving here about what information could and could not be sent in e-mail messages, and the staff sergeant said that although he may tell someone back in the United States what part of Kuwait he's in, he would never divulge troop movements or any other information that could be used by an adversary.

It took a while for my first day in Kuwait start rolling, but based on the first six hours here — and getting a chance to meet folks like the staff sergeant — I'm already impressed by the overarching impact that IT is having on this war.

Just as an aside, there were three more alarms during the three hours I spent at the Hilton in Kuwait City getting my press credentials from the Kuwaiti government and DOD. But I wasn't afraid, because standing right next to me, getting credentials for himself and his team, was none other than...Geraldo Rivera.

Yes, some troops asked him for an autograph. No, I did not.

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