Division's IT leader manages on the go

Marine Online will let
users handle administrative tasks through the Web and e-mail.





ARLINGTON, Va.—Just try catching up with Maj. Darrell Philpot. If you’re
lucky, you’ll find him at one of several office phone numbers. If not, ring his cell
phone. Or try e-mail.


Philpot, director of the information technology Branch of the Marines’ Manpower
and Reserve Affairs Information Systems Division, is perpetually on the move, a roving
cyclone of energy packing an IBM Thinkpad 600 notebook.


“I’m focused all over the place,” he said. “I work at a fast
pace.”


Philpot’s modest office is in the Navy Annex, next to Arlington Cemetery and just
up the hill from the Pentagon, but you won’t often find him there. You might try
looking for him around the annex.


“I see every single person in my branch every week because I walk around to see
what they’re doing,” he said. “I guess I do management by walking around.
It works for me.”


Otherwise, he’s likely off to the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Va., about 20
miles down Interstate 95, where he’s directing IT integration for 900 Manpower and
Reserve Affairs personnel who are moving from Arlington to new facilities at Quantico.


“There are tons of problems here, and I love providing solutions,” he said.
“It’s a challenge, it’s fun, and I love it.”


Philpot, who holds a B.S. degree in computer science from the University of Florida, is
used to formidable technology challenges.


When he was posted in 1993 to the Marines Forces Reserve in New Orleans, headquarters
command for all Marine reserve units in the United States, he found the place an IT
backwater.


“They were basically living off fax, the Postal Service and conferences,” he
said. “Their automation capability was limited to mainframe access terminals and some
old 286 computers. We put in a plan to build their infrastructure, provide new desktop
tools—hardware and software—and training and put in a WAN to connect them.”


Three years later, with much of that time spent getting management to approve the
system, the result is the Marine Forces Reserve Network, or R-Net, a 203-site network
running Lotus Notes applications under Microsoft Windows NT.


Now Philpot oversees development of Marine Online, an intranet designed to extend R-Net
to more than 140,000 Marine reservists across the country and to the rest of the Corps.


Inspired by America Online and other online services, Marine Online will let users do
most of their day-to-day administrative functions via the Web, access e-mail, get news and
other information, view Marine Corps advertisements and even use chat rooms.


On a typical workday, Philpot breakfasts with his wife and two children—“the
only peace I have in the morning”—and heads to his office.


There, he checks his e-mail and looks over his schedule for the day. He queries the
help desk on unresolved issues. If any training is planned, he makes sure the instructors
have arrived.


Then he meets with Col. P.R. Westcott III, director of the Information Systems
Division, and Col. Richard Shuck, IS chief of staff for programs and requirements, who is
in charge of the new facilities at Quantico, to update them on current projects or resolve
any issues on the table.


Otherwise, Philpot deliberately avoids meetings. “If I went to all the meetings I
was supposed to, I would spend all day in meetings and nothing would get done,” he
said.


As the day wears on, he gathers his notebook and heads south to Quantico, where he
checks on technicians who are installing fiber-optic cable for Manpower’s campus
network there.


“One building is being built from the ground up,” he said. “We basically
have to go in and lay our own infrastructure, so I’m working the base and the
contractors to make sure they’re happy with each other and that I’m going to get
my fiber running from building to building the way I need it.”


Recently at Quantico, Philpot faced a problem that called for a crucial decision. Cable
installers told him that nonplenum-rated ties were being used to anchor wires running
above the drop ceiling of the new building.


“If there’s a fire and it’s not plenum-rated stuff up there, it burns
and creates poisonous gas, which gets sucked in and recirculated throughout the
building,” he said.


Although normal cable ties cost just 10 cents each and plenum-rated ties run more than
10 times that amount, for Philpot it was a no-brainer.


“I said, ‘That’s easy, guys—put the plenum-rated ties up.’
They said, ‘But that’s going to cost money.’ I told them, ‘It
doesn’t matter. I don’t want to be responsible down the road for somebody dying
because of a decision I made to save $1,000.’ ”


That’s illustrative of the way he handles such challenges, Philpot said.
“They were kind of amazed that I made that decision on the spot, but I don’t
have time to defer decisions, because things would just queue up,” he said. “I
like to get in there, decide what we’re going to do and do it.”


From Quantico, depending on how late he stays, it’s either home or back to
Arlington to tie up loose ends.


Late on a recent day in his office, Philpot exuberantly showed a visitor an operational
prototype for Marine Online, a project that will put the Marines on the IT cutting edge
when rollout begins in September.


“We adopted a unique approach with this,” he said. “Everyone in the
Defense Department builds computer systems. Connecting to the Internet is an afterthought,
so they continually have problems with security. Our entire design was based on the fact
that we’re going to put products and services directly on the Internet, so we’re
building security from the ground up.”


Marine Online will run Microsoft Site Server 3.0, an intranet management program, and
Microsoft Commercial Internet System under NT.


One goal is to use Marine Online to reduce paperwork. “Every Marine who wants to
go on leave has to fill out paperwork,” he said. “Hopefully, before I get out of
the Marines, I’ll do away with that by putting it on the Web. If the bureaucrats want
to shuffle paper around, that’s their choice, but let’s not burden our
customers.”


Philpot said he is excited at the prospect of running advertisements on Marine Online
that will resemble civilian ads.


“It will be a pretty sophisticated package that fits well within Manpower and
Reserve Affairs because we have to advertise human-resources sorts of things to the Marine
Corps—promotions, job skills, benefits changes, all kinds of things,” he said.


Moreover, such announcements can be targeted to users based on certain demographics.


“If somebody wants all females stationed at Camp Pendleton to see a certain news
bleep, we can actually have that presented to them based on a query that runs against our
database,” he said. 


Other service branches are eyeing Marine Online with envy. “The Navy has
approached us, and they’re heavily courting us,” he said.


For Philpot, the Web is the way to go. “The Marine Corps can’t afford to go
out and build an enterprise network for the entire Corps,” he said. “They
can’t afford enough servers, PCs and everything else. That’s why we said,
‘We’re never going to get there the traditional way. Let’s go the intranet
way.’ ” 

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