Army arms recruiters with 14,000 notebook PCs

“How can we be the high-tech Army if we’re filling out forms with a
pencil?” asked Lt. Col. Gary A. Minadeo, functional director of the Army Recruiting
Information Support System at Fort Knox, Ky.


The recruiting command initially selected Vanstar Government Systems Inc. of Fairfax,
Va., to preload special software on IBM ThinkPads, but the contract was canceled within
four months because of software integration problems, Minadeo said. Mark O’Donnell,
vice president of Vanstar, now known as Inacom Government Systems, had no comment.


The command has negotiated a $30 million blanket purchasing agreement with Telos Corp.
of Ashburn, Va., said Don Fernandez, Telos’ vice president of marketing.


“Telos gets the software load, tests it out and ships it to the training
location,” Minadeo said.


Half of all Defense Department recruiters work for the Army, which looks for personnel
in 54 states and territories, Minadeo said.


“We could not afford delivery problems with a just-in-time model,” he said.


Most of the 14,000 notebooks are IBM 380XD and 390 ThinkPads running Microsoft Office
Professional 97 and Outlook under Windows NT Workstation 4.0.


“We chose NT 4.0 Service Pack 3 in part because it has better security” than
Windows 95, he said. The typical recruiter’s notebook costs $2,500 and gets about
four hours of battery life, or two hours under heavy multimedia use, he said.


Through the Defense Information Systems Agency’s antivirus site license program,
Minadeo said, the recruiting command acquired free licenses of VirusScan from Network
Associates Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.


Many of the ThinkPads have 233-MHz Pentium II processors, 64M of RAM, 3.2G hard drives
and 12.1-inch displays with 800- by 600-pixel resolution, said Andy Johnson, director of
Defense Department programs at Telos. “Increasing the resolution doesn’t buy
them anything,” he said. The average notebook weighs about 7 pounds, he said.


The Army bought a five-year, return-to-depot warranty with 24-hour replacement, Minadeo
said. Notebook technical problems first go to battalion administrators who refer them to a
central help desk if necessary, he said. Telos provides the third level of technical
support.


The notebook project grew out of an eight-year initiative to recruit soldiers more
effectively. “It’s tougher to recruit” than to sell, Minadeo said.
“You have to go out and develop leads.”


The three-year duty is said to produce stress and burnout among the noncommissioned
officers assigned as recruiters.


With the notebooks, recruiters can appeal to different audiences by showing full-screen
Motion Picture Experts Group-compressed videos about adventure, education, finance and
service to country, Minadeo said.


If an applicant’s family wants to know more about basic training, for example, the
recruiter can show a video instead of just talking about the experience.


Some ambitious recruiters have shown videos while eating at fast-food restaurants and
have attracted small groups that ask questions about military service, Minadeo said.


“You’re not just selling a product, it’s a lifestyle” that could be
dangerous or even cost a soldier’s life, he said.


The recruiters dial in through a toll-free number to access the recruiting support
network. “We’re looking into a virtual network,” Minadeo said. Users
eventually will back up their data each day to servers.


The network infrastructure now relies on a 16-year-old mainframe. By 2001, Army
Recruiting Information Support System officials plan to roll out a Sybase Inc. relational
database that will synchronize data for all the recruiters on a distributed platform,
Minadeo said. “Without that, you have 14,000 unconnected laptops,” he said.


The Sybase database will let individual commanders analyze recruitment results and
change their advertising and presentations in response to local needs, Minadeo said.


Recruiters, who receive as much as 40 hours of system training, can download leads from
various sources, the newest being the Internet. Leads might come, say, from high school
test results or from former soldiers who join the Reserve.


The ThinkPads can administer a 15-minute screening test that predicts how a candidate
would score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.  


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