From the fabricated mosques to the Middle Eastern role players and the mock artillery fire, the emphasis at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) is to simulate battlefield realities. For digital systems engineers (DSE) at these rotations, reality is preparing Soldiers to use Army Team C4ISR (Command & Control, Communications, Computers Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) technologies for real world conflict.

"JRTC makes training resemble the realities of Iraq and Afghanistan as much as possible," said Derek Kinlaw, east regional lead for digital systems engineering of the Army Team C4ISR Field Support Branch. "It develops scenarios based on lessons-learned and what we know is taking place in theater."

DSEs troubleshoot, mentor and provide over-the-shoulder training in both training and field environments. Like Kinlaw, most have prior military service and have previously been Soldiers in Tactical Operation Centers (TOCs) with the systems that they are supporting. This kind of experience enables them to bring a wealth of background information and holistic field support to the fight.

As the east regional lead, Kinlaw coordinates, manages and oversees the activities of each of the DSEs and field support representatives that are on the ground at their respective echelons. He also supports the Combat Training Center rotation; assists and mentors other DSEs during rotations; as well as supports the JRTC operations group. The JRTC is located in Fort Polk, La.

"DSEs are battle rostered to the unit and are the interface for all of the program managers to the unit," Kinlaw said. "The DSEs work along side the S6 (signal officer) and the S3 (operations officer) of the unit, supporting them as far as planning, and establishing the support they are going to need for upcoming exercises in and out of the United States."

The DSE concept was developed by Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical to provide better support to the Warfighter by giving the unit that single team captain to facilitate and orchestrate the support team. There are many systems and not one person can know them all, Kinlaw said. The DSE support along with the FSR support team consists of a group of professionals with a plethora of knowledge and assistance that can be tapped into at any time by the support team and the units themselves.

DSEs often help Soldiers settle issues that arise in training, which then enables the Soldiers to resolve problems that occur in theater. For instance early this year, the Brigade Logistics Support Team (BLST) team experienced difficulty establishing the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) network. After collecting the necessary information, Kinlaw connected with his point of contact at Product Manager, MC4. Assigned to PEO Enterprise Information Systems (EIS), MC4 is a medical information system which includes features such as lifelong electronic medical records and streamlined medical logistics.

Kinlaw was able to supply the unit with the information and support needed in case the unit ran into trouble when standing up the network in theatre.

"We don't know everything, but we will research and find out who to contact to assist the unit in any way possible," Kinlaw said. "That's part of what we do."

During the JRTC rotation, the initial set up is the most crucial period of time, Kinlaw said. Enabling the systems to publish and subscribe on the server is vital. The unit must be fluent in getting the systems up and running and ready for the "force on force" exercises which they will be called to support. These exercises often include role players, simulated artillery, and even joint aviation elements, which help to make the scenarios real as possible.

DSEs use a hands-on approach, allowing the Soldiers to manipulate systems themselves, which better prepares them for real life situations and enables them to deal with a wider variety of issues on their own.

"We call it letting the Soldier drive," Kinlaw said. "They are using the mouse and we are talking them through it, that way they are learning. Repetition is key."

Kinlaw noted that with the exception of the actual physical environment, there is not much difference between the DSE's interaction with the Soldier in training versus theater. The close working relationship between the two builds trust and confidence in the Soldiers which is imperative to mission success.

"I'm a retired first sergeant myself," Kinlaw said. "I love being around Soldiers and supporting the Warfighter in this capacity.