WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Attendees of the recent 2012 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Conference and Expo were given a unique opportunity to learn about the origins of the Army's Network Integration Evaluations -- the series of semiannual, Soldier-led evaluations designed to rapidly progress the Army's tactical network -- from someone who has been involved from the very beginning."We needed to modernize the way we conducted business," explained Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, deputy commanding general of Futures and director of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's Army Capabilities Integration Center, who was there from the beginning of the NIE concept. Walker presented "NIE: Expanding to Joint," at this year's AUSA, and shared his views of why this new real-world approach to evaluation was so important for the Army. "We would have new technology, but the process was [inefficient], and we weren't working together as a network. Soldiers would ask, 'Why do I have to wait for a test? I just want to try it out."During the NIEs, the "triad" of Brigade Modernization Command, the Army Test and Evaluation Command and the System of Systems Integration Directorate integrates networked and non-networked capabilities and then uses a full Brigade Combat Team, the 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, to assess the capabilities in order to determine their implications across doctrine, organization, training, material, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities, also known as DOTMLPF.The NIEs are conducted at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and assess potential network and non-network capabilities in a robust operational environment to determine whether they perform as needed, conform to the network architecture and are interoperable with existing systems.In short, NIE and the triad are making the Army work more efficiently and cutting huge costs. "Through a series of experiments, wargames, seminars and studies, we are able to find solutions to the issues facing Soldiers in formations," Walker said. "During the evaluations testing and realistic missions, Soldiers are able to use technology and make on-the-spot assessments," Walker said. "Once they make suggestions, engineers are on hand to make changes based on the Soldiers' feedback."The Soldiers' assessments are shared with U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the other partners of the triad, allowing the Army to make necessary adjustments to training, education, capabilities and concepts."We conduct realistic missions in White Sands, N.M., and are able to test out technology that we can't in other places," Walker said. "Our Soldiers can turn on jammers and conduct realistic training in a desert environment without disturbing local emergency responders."By consolidating efforts, cutting costs, updating doctrine and training, providing realistic training to Soldiers (with engineers on site), and listening to the troops at the lowest levels, the Army is providing Soldiers with the best technology, training and preparation for the future."The [NIE] is a great process … it's about empowering our Soldiers," Walker told the audience. "By conducting these exercises and adjusting the way we operate, we are preparing our Soldiers for the future."