JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. –As the Department of Defense and the American public went from a commuting workforce to a remotely connected telework force and COVID-19 spread across the fifty states and around the world within weeks, the Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) also expanded its global network capability, infrastructure and remote customer service to help “kill the virus” and protect employees.
And as the virus spread and DOD personnel were sent home to telework, technological acronyms like VPN (Virtual Private Network), CVR (Commercial Virtual Remote), and JRSS (Joint Regional Security Stack), have become synonymous and nested within everyone’s vocabulary. These are just some of the technologies and software platforms being used to amplify NETCOM’s 24-hour round-the-clock mission of managing and protecting the Army’s Department of Defense Information Network (DODIN-A).
At the forefront of NETCOM’s virtual expansion during COVID-19 are the men and women who are part of the more than 160 localized Network Enterprise Centers (NECs) located throughout the globe that are supporting military installations world-wide. One of those NECs, making a profound impact on NETCOM’s cyber initiatives during COVID-19, is the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Network Enterprise Center (NEC).
“When the decision was made to go to widespread teleworking on JBLM, the NEC took quick action by ensuring software to support this effort was quickly deployed, all machines were patched aggressively, VPN software platforms were deployed to desktop computers, and a Telework desktop folder of teleworking TTP’s (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) were also pushed out to all computers,” said Amy Ridgeway, JBLM NEC Director.
However, switching to a VPN based network in a matter of days required some extensive teamwork and coordination with customer requirements according the JBLM NEC Director.
“The NEC kept Mission Partners informed of our actions, and solicited their recommendations on how to make their ability to telework and function even better,” said Ridgeway.
Ridgeway credits her NEC team with expeditiously assessing the JBLM network status and correlating a prompt response to customer requirements, insuring optimal solutions were attainable to accommodate the increased demand for VPN remote access points.
“This exceptional endeavor couldn’t even have begun without the efforts of the JBLM NEC Networking Infrastructure Division (NID) and their ability to rapidly expand JBLM's VPN capability.”
“Each Division was thoroughly involved. For example Business and Plans Division had to coordinate to receive the new VPN devices and purchase the additional required licenses; Cyber Security Division had to make access changes; and Enterprise Services Division had to request the certificates and push out the updated VPN clients,” said Ridgeway.
Not only did the NEC increase VPN capacity, they also front-loaded NETCOM’s JRSS initiatives and thus expedited a sound data migration that ultimately enhanced the security features of the current JBLM network.
“The NEC intensively worked with our Mission Partners to ensure that this ASI (authorized service interruption) was a success by ensuring all their systems and applications were tested both prior to and after the JRSS migration,” said Ridgeway.
The remarkable achievements of the NEC JBLM speak for themselves as recounted by Col. Jason Bryan, I CORPS G-6.
“In a nutshell the JBLM NEC added additional VPN concentrators, which expanded concurrent users from 700-plus to over 3,700. The NEC also accelerated the JRSS transition, increasing the network bandwidth to accommodate an additional 5,000 VPN users,” said Bryan.
Expanding bandwidth and providing services to additional customers under the shadow of COVID-19 is just the tip of the iceberg for the JBLM NEC team because they also assisted first responders supporting Task Force 62.
“The NEC provided network connectivity to the 627th Hospital Center from Fort Carson that came to JBLM for support for both the field hospital on JBLM and the field hospital at Century Link Field in Seattle, Washington. In addition, the NEC maintained close coordination with the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, the JBLM hosting unit,” said Ridgeway.
Col. Bryan and Ms. Ridgeway also credit the success of the JBLM NEC to the addition of new collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams or CVR as it is termed within DOD.
“The NEC implemented specialized-tunneling to allow Microsoft Teams (CVR) to function within the VPN environment,” said Bryan.
“Although, the NEC had set up a PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency) communications plan, we found a brand new tool that was incredibly useful both before and during authorized service interruptions. Hence, Microsoft Teams (CVR) was put to the test and proved to be invaluable because it enabled real time communication and sharing of information,” said Ridgeway.
“The NEC and our Mission Partners, especially I CORPS and the 7th Infantry Division, have completely embraced Microsoft Teams and are making heavy use of its capabilities every day.”
“Using Microsoft Teams to collaborate with Mission Partners has greatly improved situational awareness, enabled responsiveness, and provided for more transparent communications, especially in regards to authorized service interruption management and tracking,” said Ridgeway.
Keeping JBLM connected during COVID-19 proved to be quite challenging for the NEC but it does not compare to the challenges of providing customer service from afar. When faced with providing remote customer service due to the substantial increase in telework, the JBLM NEC was no stranger to this new environment.
“Specifically, Desktop Support and the SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager) team have improved their processes because of the new work dynamic. While Desktop Support was already skilled at remotely servicing customer issues, there was always the ability to have a customer bring a computer into the office. This new environment forced new solutions to problems since the ability to have the computer brought to the office no longer exists,” said Ridgeway.
“The SCCM team also had to change their methodology. Supporting a customer base that is no longer easily reachable necessitated an increased evaluation of software pushes because anything that disrupted work was now much more difficult to resolve.”
“Therefore the SCCM team developed and adopted new processes which mitigated risk and served the community better, and many of these processes will be incorporated permanently once JBLM returns to the new normal,” said Ridgeway.
Despite the many challenges in maintaining network connectivity, the JBLM NEC kept its customers online and communicating throughout the mandatory lock-downs and stay-home orders brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, customers only had great things to say about the NEC that is allowing them to telework and provide mission support to the JBLM community and rest of DOD.
“NEC, I wanted to thank Vanessa Ericson for her hard work and dedication to the JBLM NEC. I called Vanessa because I was having issues logging into the VPN and with her professionalism, great customer service attitude, she quickly solved the issue; thus, allowing me to continue teleworking,” said one JBLM user.
Others had this to say about the JBLM NEC, “I recently had the pleasure to work through desktop issues on two occasions with Rob Kinard from the JBLM NEC Desktop support. I can state, unequivocally, that he provides the best customer service I have ever received through the Enterprise Service Desk.”
“While working under the COVID-19 telework conditions, the sound on my computer became inoperable, and non-mission capable of participating in mandatory virtual meetings. Within 1 hour of submitting the ticket, Mr. Kinard was able to log onto my CPU through VPN and correct the multiple issues limiting my connectivity,” said another JBLM user.
Overall Ms. Ridgeway only had positive accolades to share about her team’s concerted efforts during the COVID-19 crisis.
“It has been amazing to watch; the JBLM NEC team has given an outstanding performance all around. The dedication and willingness to do what it takes to continue supporting the Soldiers and Civilians on JBLM during this crisis has been a truly gratifying experience and has raised the level of pride within the entire NEC,” said Ridgeway.
The NETCOM Commanding General Maj. Gen. Maria B. Barrett also applauded the JBLM NEC’s achievements during COVID-19.
“I have long believed that in times of adversity, the true test of a team is their ability to succeed even in the most difficult of times. The JBLM NEC team truly exemplifies this. I am grateful for each of them for their dedication to our mission,” said Barrett.