KUWAIT — As one of thousands of service members deployed in the Middle East, I consider it an honor to share some thoughts about my experiences serving here and to share my views on how we are using technology to accomplish our mission and to communicate with family and friends.
Because of the hard work of the information technology community, the military has benefited greatly from new technology and has come a long way in using it to support our missions. Technology is also enabling the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving here — thousands of miles away from family, friends and careers (in the case of the National Guard and Army Reserve) — to better communicate with our loved ones.
Before I get into how we are capitalizing on technology, I will give some background on why I am here and what I am doing. I was notified in November 2006 that I would be mobilizing and deploying to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). My first thought was, “Wow, they must really be at the bottom of the barrel if they are sending 40-plus-year-old women with bad knees to this conflict.” Of course, this was all in jest because, as a 20-year member of the Army and Army Reserves, I knew it would be just a matter of time before I was deployed, and I was ready and qualified to go.
From a mission standpoint, my unit is the 1st Information Operations Command, Regional Computer Emergency Response Team — Southwest Asia. Our unit provides support to the Army and other military forces to defend cyberspace in support of OIF. Our primary function is to monitor and detect potential incidents on Army IT assets and networks, to respond to incidents if they occur, and to provide advice and assistance in protecting mission-critical networks and systems.
Let me note that by no means do I face the daily dangers that many service members do. I am continuously overwhelmed with pride at the courage and dedication of the men and women in uniform and the contractors and civilians supporting us who face combat every day. This experience has truly made me proud to be an American. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by the teams supporting OIF.
Now, back to IT. Being in the field performing an IT mission versus working in federal IT in the states has been an eye-opening experience for me. There is a continuous high operational tempo in this environment, and everyone works around the clock without complaint.
There are units moving in and out all the time, and the IT architecture is quite complex and dynamic. Despite this complexity, the computers and networks maintain an impressive level of availability, again because of the extreme hard work of the professionals supporting this operation. We rely on state-of-the-art equipment and technologies to manage the demand for high, yet secure, access to information. Web portals, satellite communications, and high-speed router and switching technologies keep information flowing.
On a personal level, for the military and others serving in the Middle East, while the distance and time away from home is sometimes overwhelming, advancements in technology have made communicating with loved ones much easier.
Probably the biggest difference in technology that I have seen since last serving overseas (which was back in the dark ages of 1988) is the improvement in making a simple telephone call. Even just a few years ago, a soldier had to stand in line to get to a telephone, then use a calling card; the connection was hit or miss — very unreliable. Today, we can buy mobile phones that connect us to anyone, anywhere in the world, at the touch of a button. Although the phones and minutes are not necessarily cheap (phones run from approximately $50 to more than $500, and calls cost approximately 47 cents a minute), they are not prohibitively expensive, and the service is fairly reliable. Additionally, the military provides access to military phone networks that can be used at no cost, if you are willing to stand in line and be routed around a few times — but it’s a nice and reliable option.
The biggest difference in technology over the years is, of course, easy access to the Internet. Most bases provide wireless Internet access. Services such as Skype and Yahoo Instant Messenger provide video- and audio-conferencing to service members for personal use. It is such a morale boost to actually see and talk in real-time to your loved ones. On any given night, you will find many service members sitting outside, taking advantage of our wireless Internet connection to see and talk to their families.
So, this is what we are doing with technology here in the theatre. And what about being a woman here? Well, to be perfectly honest, I see no difference between how men and women are treated. There is a pervasive mentality that we are all here to accomplish a mission; we have our specific roles and responsibilities. If you perform as a team member, you are respected, male or female — that is the bottom line.
While this is a difficult experience, it is rewarding, and it is made less difficult through the availability of new technology. As even more advancements are made, the military will look to capitalize on new technologies to continue to improve our capabilities and our ability to communicate with our loved ones back at home.