Concept for personnel recovery data blooms with new approach
June 25, 2009
- The amount of information available in case a Soldier is missing or captured has increased dramatically since the new data system was launched.
- A key strength of PRO-File is that it doesn't require access to a highly secure computer system. Therefore, a person who has an Army Knowledge Online (AKO) account can complete the PRO-File survey at home or in the barracks, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- The 101st Airborne Division served as a further "test bed" for the system. The division was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan and was able to get personnel recovery data into the system before deployment.
FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. -- While operating in a combat zone filled with constant danger, U.S. Soldiers could find themselves busting through a locked door only to find a man tied up in ropes, his mouth covered with duct tape.
Fifteen minutes later, the same man could either be in the back of a truck headed to another location for interrogation, or be free, receiving food and water from his rescuers. Which scenario unfolds will depend upon determining the man's identity.
Against a backdrop of a fluid, erratic war zone, a Soldier or civilian in a foreign country could easily become isolated, missing, detained or captured. In a conflict with no fixed front lines, the enemy might be just around the corner, waiting for a Soldier in unfamiliar territory to make a wrong turn and get lost.
Today, a vast database of critical information has been amassed that can be used in the event that a Soldier is captured. A dramatic increase in the size of the database occurred in a roundabout way, and centered on employees at the Software Engineering Center of the CECOM Life Cycle Management Command (CECOM LCMC) at Fort Monmouth, N.J.
To help identify Soldiers and civilians, the Army requires that personnel complete a digital Isolated Personnel Report (ISOPREP). The form may be completed during basic training, or by an Army civilian or contractor who is scheduled to enter certain theaters of operations.
The data in an ISOPREP is used to verify the identity of a Soldier who may later become missing or captured. The data is also useful if an enemy combatant tries to impersonate a Soldier.
"ISOPREPs have been around at least since Vietnam and were originally used mostly by aviators and Special Forces," said Matt Croke, Chief of the CECOM LCMC Operations Center. "Now, with a different type of warfare where there are no front lines, it is important that this form by used by all conventional forces."
While the need for ISOPREPs is clear, there was a time when completing the form presented several problems: The data had to be filled out using a computer system that was so secure that Soldiers had to be escorted-and only a few at a time-to the computer location. Certain parts of the form were confusing and difficult to complete. Frustrated commanders were seeing countless training days slip away because so few Soldiers could complete the forms at one time.
Because the process was deemed so arduous, the majority of Soldiers didn't even have an ISOPREP, and for those who did, the information was often incomplete or inaccurate. At one point, Army ISOPREPs on file numbered as few as 10,000.
Having ISOPREP data available is an important component of Personnel Recovery. The Army defines Personnel Recovery as "the sum of military, diplomatic, and civil efforts to effect the recovery and return of U.S. military, DoD civilians, and DoD contractor personnel, or other personnel ... who are isolated, missing, detained, or captured in an operational environment."
As one Army document puts it, "Personnel recovery is the task of bringing our warriors home. It is part of the warrior ethos and must be embedded into every fabric of the Army. That fabric includes Soldiers, DA civilians, and DA contractors."
It was almost by happenstance that a quicker and better way to capture ISOPREP data was eventually deployed throughout the Army.
Several years ago, while attending a conference on Personnel Recovery, Croke got to know members of the Army G3 staff. Because the ISOPREP process could be cumbersome, making it more manageable was a common, informal topic at such conferences.
"What system are you guys working on'" Croke was asked casually at the conference. "We have something here called PRO-File," he replied.
PRO-File stands for Pre-OCONUS travel file. It was to be used by CECOM LCMC civilian employees before travelling outside the continental United States.
The developer of PRO-File, Mike Roberson (who is also the designer and project manager), works at the Software Engineering Center in the CECOM LCMC. Roberson is also the designer and project manager of the PRO-File system.
"In the old days, one of the biggest problems with ISOPREPs was that you had to come up with four little stories about yourself that were factual,," Roberson said. "Unless you were trained, few people could do it well."
To help standardize these "stories," Roberson came up with about 50 questions about notable events in a person's past, grouped in six "background "sections. At least four of the six sections must be completed.
PRO-File acts as the Army's interface with the U.S. Joint Forces Command Personnel Recovery Management System. Data entered into PRO-File surveys is automatically transferred to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. Only after the data is transferred to the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network is it transformed into an ISOPREP.
A key strength of PRO-File is that it doesn't require access to a highly secure computer system. Therefore, a person who has an Army Knowledge Online (AKO) account can complete the PRO-File survey at home or in the barracks, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"It went from being the most restricted access possible to the least restricted," Roberson said. Since PRO-File was implemented Army-wide, the number of completed ISOPREPs has skyrocketed.
"We gave them another 10,000 like within a month," Roberson said. "Today, the number is about 400,000." In a typical week, more than 4,000 surveys are completed.
Martin Griffith, an operations analyst with the Army's Personnel Recovery Branch, participated in the early development and roll-out of the PRO-File system.
"We sat down with the guys at Fort Monmouth and started talking about requirements," he recalled. "They already had an initial model, but we really built it and tested it for the next six to eight months."
PRO-File was demonstrated to the Army Vice Chief of Staff, who gave the thumbs up that led to field testing at Fort Campbell, Ky. "We had outstanding results," Griffith said. "We tested it to the limit, over-using and abusing the system, putting in 3,000 ISOPREP surveys an hour."
The 101st Airborne Division served as a further "test bed" for the system. "They were getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan and were able to get the data into the system before deployment," Griffith remembered. "I would say that this is one of the best success stories I've seen in Personnel Recovery in the Army," Griffith added in reference to Personnel Recovery capabilities.
The PRO-File system allows Soldiers to devote more time to the training and preparation needed to achieve their missions.
Greater accuracy and a greater number of ISOPREPs on file is PRO-File's contribution to the recovery of Soldiers or civilians who may become isolated on hostile soil.
"A relatively simple application, that was put together relatively quickly and relatively inexpensively had a big bang in a big way," said Jeff Zovak, chief of customer application development at the CECOM Life Cycle Management Command Software Engineering Center.
(This article appeared in Spectra, the magazine of the CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. To access the full issue in PDF format, 3.2 megabytes, click on the link appearing in the Aca,!A"Related LinksAca,!A? box at the start of the article.)