U.S. Army Africa G-6 works around the clock and often on two continents
October 24, 2011
VICENZA, Italy -- Nearly 50 Soldiers and civilians of the U.S. Army Africa's G-6 ensure the unit has internet and telephone service. They also help people assigned to USARAF map to the right printer, assist with Tandberg desktop video-conferencing and troubleshoot BlackBerry smart phones.
It's a 24/7 job with support to personnel here in Vicenza, and to USARAF personnel operating on the African continent.
Recently, Col. Kristin Ellis, USARAF's chief information officer, took time to share his thoughts on his directorate's operations, responsibilities and what's on the horizon for information technology in USARAF.
"According to the G-6 theater design our section coordinates and integrates theater Army communications and information network capabilities and the extension of those capabilities to austere environments across the geographic combatant commander's area of responsibility," Ellis said.
"In plain English, we serve as USARAF's internet service provider and USARAF's AT&T", Ellis said. According to Ellis, one of the biggest challenges on the horizon for USARAF's G-6 is enterprise email migration. He said the Army-wide move involves more than 1.4 million email users.
"By the end of December, all of the Army, along with Transportation Command, European Command and Africa Command will migrate to enterprise email," Ellis said.
There will be advantages to the new email system, Ellis said.
"Users will have military email access worldwide. They will be able to use their common access cards to get email on any installation. Most users will be able to keep their accounts even after transferring to different agencies within the Army," Ellis said.
He said the current migration tool is working, however, not flawlessly.
"Microsoft has created patches, but the tool is still not working perfectly," said Ellis.
He suggests email users can help the pending migration by cleaning out their email boxes.
"We are advising exchange users to shrink their mailboxes down to 50 megabytes," he said.
Another challenge for the USARAF G-6 is the upcoming move to facilities at Dal Molin.
"We are going to have to install phone service and internet service for everyone who moves offices from Ederle to Dal Molin. And, at the same time, we're going to relocate all the equipment that supports those services. It's a herculean task, but we're looking forward to the challenge," Ellis said.
Ellis elaborated on some of the complexities of supporting exercises on the African continent.
"Distance is the biggest challenges when working communications issues on the continent. Africa is larger than the combination of China, the U.S., Western Europe, India, Argentina, all three Scandinavian countries and the British Isles," Ellis said.
He said the second biggest challenge is spectrum management.
"The first sentence of the International Telecommunications Union constitution fully recognizes the sovereign right of each state to regulate its telecommunication. That means each of Africa's 55 countries considers the radio frequency spectrum as an exclusive property of state. It's a national resource much like water and land. Each country manages spectrum a little differently, and that can lead to problems. Here is a familiar example. Armed Forces Network Vicenza operates on radio frequency 106.0, but you can't tune that frequency with a factory-installed car radio sold in the United States," Ellis said.
"We work with 55 different versions of the Federal Communications Commission. Anyone who has ever gone to the department of motor vehicles to renew their license knows that working with government agencies can be challenging. Now imagine going to 55 different DMV's where English isn't always spoken," Ellis said.
Ellis said one of the most important events for the USARAF G6 is African Endeavor.
"Each year, USARAF G-6 participates in exercise Africa Endeavor (AE). AE is a U.S. Africa Command-sponsored, multinational initiative focused on communications systems interoperability, and building tactical networks between African nations. AE brings the U.S.S together with African Union partners who share common stability, security, and sustainment goals. Last year, the exercise was hosted in The Gambia and welcomed country delegations from more than 40 African nations. The exercise brought together 200-plus communications and information security experts," Ellis said.
With operations spanning two continents and serving several hundred customers, the USARAF G-6 continues to support a growing and dynamic mission.