Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.—As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the New York metropolitan area and the need for outside support increased in multitude; the Department of Defense (DOD) expeditiously responded with the deployment of Joint Task Force-Civil Support (JTF-CS). However, with the immediate influx of military support units deploying into the area, it quickly became apparent that network enterprise solutions were needed to sustain internet and intranet communications throughout the nation’s largest metropolitan area.
At the forefront of the DOD’s and the Network Enterprise Technology Command’s (NETCOM’s) Information Technology (IT) solutions capability 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, supporting military installations world-wide. The NEC system came into existence in 2009 under the direction of the 7th Signal Brigade and was the result of the deliberate transformation of the former Directorates of Information Management (DOIMs) at each installation, which subsequently became the current Network Enterprise Centers of today.
In 2009 NECs became important support systems to the Continental United States (CONUS)-based units, who depend on computer networks to train as they fight, to conduct distributed joint planning, and to rehearse for operations. Currently, NECs at each installation operate as part of the larger portion of the Army’s Department of Defense Information Networks (DODIN-A), while remaining responsive at the local level to provide assured access.
However, during this pandemic NECs are making very profound impacts on NETCOM’s cyber initiatives during COVID-19, like the NEC at JB MDL, which services the Fort Dix and Fort Devens area of operations; as Mr. Rich Garrett, Director for the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Center, Fort Dix, N.J. & Fort Devens, Mass. explains.
“We’ve been supporting the Defense Health Agency (DHA) and the local medical community for COVID-19 mobilization missions such as the initial Joint Task Force Civil Support, JTF-CS in March and our Mobilization Force Generation Installation (MFGI) mission.”
“In addition, we have extended the DHA Medical Community of Interest (Med-COI) network connection supported by Keller Army Community Hospital (KACH) located at West Point, N.Y. to several medical mobilization support buildings on the Fort Dix cantonment area including medical and dental clinics,” said Garrett.
Not only has the JB MDL NEC provided critical network support to the Med-COI; they have also provided net connectivity to JTF-CS units like the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC) from Fort Bragg that deployed with 253 Soldiers in March to provide medical, planning, communication, transportation and logistics support.
The 3rd ESC, was among 1,100 soldiers deploying from Bragg to provide defense support of civil authorities in response to COVID-19 and assisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA in New York. According to Garrett, supporting the 3rd ESC proved to be important in the over scheme of things.
“JTF-CS were spearheaded by the 3rd Expeditionary Support Command (ESC) out of Fort Bragg. As the 3rd ESC was tasked to process personnel and equipment into New York City and surrounding locations in the fight against the pandemic.”
“The Fort Dix NEC provided the 3rd ESC with Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Information Management (C4IM) services to support network access for leadership and administrative personnel via Video Tele-Conferencing capabilities and support services from the Defense Information Systems Agency DISA,” said Garrett.
Not only did Garrett’s NEC team provide essential communications support to JTF-CS they also helped DOD expand its collaboration software platforms.
“Through collaborative platforms such as Microsoft Teams, also called Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) Environment, we have created a virtual environment that facilitates a personnel presence as if you are working in the same location,” said Garrett.
CVR increases productivity and quality because you can share, brainstorm and communicate with remote users when necessary via the on-board chat features.”
Garrett credits the response to COVID-19 as helping to dispel any myths regarding telework.
“Needless to say that a positive result of this pandemic is the dismissal of the idea that teleworking cannot be productive and a positive tool for activities,” said Garrett.
“Consequently as a result of telework we also recognized that personnel were working too much and had to be reminded to stay within expectations.”
The JB MDL NEC director credits the success of his team to their dedication, hard work and pre-COVID-19 preparation prior to the major pandemic outbreak.
“Just prior to the COVID-19 crisis in February 2020, Fort Dix completed the Joint Regional Security Stack (JRSS) migration. As part of that migration we decommissioned antiquated Virtual Private Network (VPN) infrastructure that would not have met the demand of teleworking personnel,” said Garrett.
“The NEC Team has not only stepped up to every challenge tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have sustained our normal operations which includes a Command Cyber Readiness Inspection previously scheduled for June 2020.”
“The Team has provided flawless service and support to the Fort Dix community and has been the tip of the spear for learning, using and maintaining the collaborative tools used during COVID-19,” concluded Garrett.