CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The general in charge of operating and defending Army networks in the Western Hemisphere challenged more than 100 Army IT professionals from across the nation to help shape the enterprise network during a leadership summit here November 15-18.
Brig. Gen. LaWarren V. Patterson, commanding general, 7th Signal Command (Theater), hosted a three-day Network Enterprise Center (NEC) Summit to unite many of the key people who will help plan and implement a host of IT changes as they manage network capabilities at Army posts, camps and stations in the Continental United States (CONUS).
Attendees included 7th SC(T) NEC directors, commanders and staff from the 21st, 93rd and 106th Signal Brigades and the CONUS Theater Network Operations & Security Center (TNOSC), and 7th SC(T) staff representatives. Guest speakers also attended from 9th Signal Command (Army), Army Materiel Command and Department of the Army Headquarters.
7th SC(T) currently has administrative control of 37 NECs in CONUS, with the remainder of CONUS NECs transitioning to the command's control during the next several years.
"NECs and other network service providers, such as our TNOSCs are 7th Signal Command's center of gravity," said Patterson, "because they are the touch points to and for our customers."
7th SC(T) network service providers keep Army and strategic customers connected with telephones, email, internet, teleconferencing and an array of special data and communications services from the foxhole to the President of the United States in the 7th SC(T) AOR according to Patterson.
The general charged the group to communicate, collaborate and cross-pollinate so they can continue to foster unity of effort and ensure best value to network customers and the Army enterprise.
The summit included two days of working groups conducted by the NEC directors to discuss challenges and make recommendations focused on four key network areas: secure and operate, enhance, govern and resource.
General Patterson also provided the group with a final draft of a command priorities document that summarizes the command's main objectives and actions for the next two years.
While acknowledging that IT challenges and problems can seem insurmountable, especially in what will certainly be a resource-limited environment for the future, General Patterson urged summit participants to "quit admiring the problems."
"Let's lay out the issues and focus our time and energy at problem solving, finding opportunities and working towards solutions," he said.
Solutions from this meeting will ultimately impact the quality of life for Soldiers, Army civilians and their families according to Command Sergeant Major Kenneth O. Williams, command sergeant major, 7th SC(T).
"The leaders who attended this summit are the people who will work to improve the information technology programs, processes and services that directly affect people in the work areas, said Williams. "They ensure our Warfighters can stay connected while they prepare for and conduct missions around the globe, enabling them to train as they fight and fight on arrival."
Williams also said one of the main issues discussed at the summit was pushing more authority down to the NEC directors so they can make quicker decisions.
"Giving the NEC directors more decision making authority at the local level can help them provide better and timelier services," said Williams. "Ultimately, the NEC directors are responsible for providing the best possible IT services to the senior mission commander while defending the LandWarNet."
The operational and resource challenges involved in providing, operating and modernizing a network as huge as the CONUS LandWarNet will remain immense, while network security challenges make the job even tougher, according to Patterson.
"We are the most IT-dependent nation in the world, therefore we are the most IT-vulnerable nation in the world," he said. "We have to start thinking in terms that computers are weapons systems."
Everyone who uses a computer or device on the Army's network has a weapons system that they fire every day, and the network takes thousands of incoming rounds each day from real enemies whose intent is to inflict real harm. Those maliciously fired electrons in cyberspace are like little rockets exploding on the network, and each one has the potential to do extensive harm according to Patterson.
"This is no joke," he said. "The wrong key stroke or action on a computer can take out an entire organization, an entire grid square or an entire infrastructure. Cyberspace is a theater of war, and I can't think of it in any clearer terms.
"We send our Soldiers to the harshest and most dangerous places on Earth every day, and we expect them to achieve impossible results, and they do. We must give them safe, useful and reliable maneuverability in cyberspace. They need it to operate and survive at the tactical edge so they can win and come home alive."
General Patterson emphasized to the NEC directors that they are the direct links to the people who use network services on their posts, camps and stations. They should be "at the table" with leadership to honestly communicate realities and help set realistic expectations for customers as they discuss current and future challenges and changes.
Otherwise, customers will become "not only frustrated, but disappointed as well," according to the general. He said he also wants NEC directors to communicate through their brigades to 7th Signal Command so he can keep Army leadership informed about network and customer concerns and issues.
Many changes are slated for how the Army will deliver network services. For example, the Army will move to enterprise email service managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency beginning in 2011.
Instead of accessing email through local email servers at each installation, users will reach through the network to access email services from DoD data centers. This new approach will provide significant capability improvements for email users, according to Stephen Bullock, strategic communications director, 7th SC(T).
"Migration will be performed installation by installation," said Bullock. "The schedule is still under development and will be published through an Army level operations order. This, along with other network enterprise initiatives, will require NEC directors and our workforce to continually learn and adapt."
On the third and final day of the summit, each working group presented their results and recommendations. 7th SC(T) will track progress made on each recommendation during monthly teleconference discussions and other regular forums. The larger group will reconvene in about six months for another summit to continue the process.
"This was a historic and hugely powerful meeting that included many of the most knowledgeable and influential IT and support personnel in the Army," said Patterson. "I am more than pleased about the ways these leaders communicated, collaborated and cross-pollinated as they rolled up their sleeves to identify, prioritize and begin working on solutions to the significant IT challenges we will confront in the near and long terms."
About 7th Signal Command (Theater)-7th Signal Command (Theater), from its headquarters at Fort Gordon, Ga., provides and defends network capabilities and services for Army, Joint, Interagency and Multinational forces in the Western Hemisphere to enable operations and battle command. One Team - One Network!
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