SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – Army Liaison Officers (LNO)’s remain an integral part of our rich military history dating back to the American Civil War. LNO’s were originally referred to as “directed telescopes,” a term first coined during the Napoleonic wars, which defined these officers as being permanently assigned to observe and report on subordinate units for the commander.
As battlefields increased in size, LNO’s used the latest technology available in the 19th century, the telegraph, to report on the situation in their sectors. Later, during World War I, technological advances in telephone and wireless communication coupled with larger armies forced a greater decentralization of tactical command and control which gave way to the doctrinal use of LNO’s.
Yesterday’s “directed telescopes” are the LNO’s of today, who are playing a very important part in the fight against COVID-19 as they provide the coordinated Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Information Management (C4IM) between the Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) and Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).
NETCOM implemented the use of LNO’s within their organizational infrastructure prior to COVID-19 as described by the Mark A. Washington, Supervisory, IT Specialist NETCOM Liaison to DISA, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
“The LNO mission was initially established in 2018, and drew support from Warrant Officers of various theatres, rotating on two-week TDY schedules. The effort presented challenges fiscally, and was not sustainable.”
“Hence, in the spring of 2019, NETCOM established Department of the Army (DA civilian positions to carry the LNO effort,” said Washington.
In retrospect, these LNO’s have presently become an essential communications conduit between NETCOM and DISA.
“Currently, our LNO team operates on the DISA’s network allowing us unrestricted shared access to DISA Global information. The DISA Global information we provide leadership, coupled with data from NETCOM allows for the creation and sustainment of a clear Common Operational Picture (COP).”
“This allows senior leaders to make time-sensitive and informed decisions,” said Washington.
When COVID-19 took shape in early March of this year, the need to keep NETCOM’s situational awareness in context with ground-truth network operations became quite apparent. The fact that NETCOM leaned forward in establishing an LNO program previously with DISA paid off in many ways according to Washington.
“COVID-19 took the world by surprise and generated many first ever requirements for all service elements.”
“Some of the Major contributions made by the LNO team include various expeditious collaborative efforts to unblocking critical websites, which promote Army mission success. In addition, our collaborative services solidified an increase to IP space for Remote Access Virtual Private Network (RAVPN) enabling increase telework capability within the Army,” said Washington.
LNO duties and responsibilities during COVID-19 included various reporting and coordination requirements.
“As LNO’s we assisted DISA Global in conducting impact analysis for service outages, as well as ensuring Army services were reported through appropriate processes,” said Robert Seyler, NETCOM LNO.
“Our NETCOM LNO team at DISA also promoted the escalation process as needed and reported issues and Cyber outages to the NETCOM Fusion Center.
“Eventually our team provided timely updates and situational awareness in both directions within DISA and to the NETCOM Current Operations (CUOPS) community to develop a better tactical picture of overall mission readiness and status,” said Seyler.
Other successful COVID-19 driven tasks negotiated by the NETCOM LNO team, included a myriad of accomplishments.
“The LNO team helped expedite the fielding of toolsets by gauging the NETCOM requirements and collaborating with DISA Global leaders to shuffle prioritization.”
“The LNOs helped NETCOM streamline operations by providing a road map for the DISA Organization to follow. In the process, we established several mission partner relationships, which have helped our community understand DISA Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs), which allowed multi-organizational information to traverse efficiently,” said Washington.
Not only did NETCOM benefit from the LNO undertaking but this also assisted DISA in their mission set, according to Mr. Norman G. Beasley, NETCOM LNO.
“Some of the major contributions we made as LNO’s during COVID-19 included making sure DISA personnel were available to provide assistance as needed to support Army requirements and to ensure DISA leadership was aware of Army’s top priorities and mission impacts.”
We helped DISA obtain an in-depth understanding of how incidents on their side impacted the Army community. I believe being an LNO located within the DISA Network Operations Center (NOC) provided a sense of ease to their operation by having someone in place that could provide them accurate and concise information,” said Beasley.
Washington, says LNO Teams are ultimately needed to maintain situational awareness and assist in decision making.
“LNO teams are needed to provide added fidelity to NETCOM’s Common Operational Picture. With today’s complex network design encompassing all service elements onto a single network; it is extremely challenging to obtain updates as well as real time statuses from the service provider Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).”
“The LNO teams are needed to work closely with DISA Global to ensure data flow events, which may affect NETCOM’s current network operations are migrated or mitigated in a timely manner,” said Washington.
NETCOM leadership recognizes the extensive profound contributions of the LNO team led by Mark Washington.
“We understood the value of the LNO’s on Mark Washington’s team even before COVID 19 hit, but their performance during the pandemic was absolutely off the charts. Their understanding of the Army’s mission and priorities, as well as the DISA enterprise, proved vital to my ability to make decisions on where to apply resources or pressure in a very fluid environment in those first weeks of the telecommuting surge,” said Maj. Gen. Maria B. Barrett, NETCOM’s Commanding General.
“DISA is a very important partner in NETCOM’s mission to deliver timely, secure, and reliable, C4IM services to the Army across the globe. During COVID, we learned that with the right collaborative tools, we can have a very productive and rich exchange with anyone, anywhere, across the DoD and even external to it. I truly believe the face-to-face engagement and relationships built between our LNOs and the DISA Global team are critical to achieving situational understanding and overcoming the inherent complexity our vast network environments.”
“In the end, organizational relationships are much like personal relationships. Thus, sending the right LNO to another organization is like a relationship with your best friend: you can look each other straight in eye and know exactly what each other are thinking or saying with no filters or blind spots…and bottom line, these relationships are producing operational outcomes,” said Barrett.