Marines find notebook PCs are semper fi

Marines find notebook PCs are semper fi

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

A Marine Corps unit deployed in the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kosovo is finding that commercial notebook PCs suit its needs just fine.

'We've had no real problems' with nonruggedized PCs, said 1st Lt. Bret Hyla, an information systems officer at Gnjilane in southeast Kosovo.

In the command element of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed from Camp LeJeune, N.C., Hyla supports 80 unclassified and 30 classified notebooks from Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Gateway Inc., IBM Corp. and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. When the 2,200 Marines in the unit were stationed north of Skopje, Macedonia, from June 12-15, they had to use fans to keep the notebooks cool, Hyla said. In hot weather, soldiers have to turn off their computers for at least two hours a day, while they are asleep, he said.

'In cool weather, we're on 24-7,' Hyla said.
''Commercial notebooks have a three-year lifecycle under the wear and tear inflicted by the Marines and the environment. Even when the notebooks are operated in tents, the dust and heat take a toll, as do the 20 to 30 moves a Marine can make during a typical six-month deployment, Hyla said.

The unclassified notebooks run Microsoft Windows 9x, while the classified ones run Windows NT Workstation 4.0. The Marines left their desktop PCs on three ships off the coast of Greece, where they landed early last month, said Hyla, who telephoned GCN from Kosovo for an interview toward the end of his 17-hour workday.

The Marines plan to upgrade the unclassified notebooks to NT Workstation 4.0 after they return to Camp LeJeune in November, Hyla said.

The Marine unit is working on a 10Base-T network with Category 5 cable connected to two Compaq ProLiant servers that have ruggedized cases and run Windows NT Server 4.0, Hyla said. Soldiers can access the LAN as far as a quarter-mile from field headquarters, Hyla said.

Gateway to data

One of the dual 400-MHz Pentium servers has a gateway to the Non-Classified IP Router Network; the other provides access to the Secret IP Router Network. The machines also run Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 as the unit's Defense Message System user agent.

The Marine unit late last year moved to NT Server 4.0 and Exchange 5.5 from Vines and StreetTalk 8.5 from Banyan Worldwide of Westborough, Mass.

The Corps has also deployed one Cisco Systems Inc. 4000 router for SIPRnet and NIPRnet access, Hyla said. A Cisco 2500 router from the San Jose, Calif., company supports a link to a separate Defense Department top-secret network, where the Marines get updates on land mine locations.

Fourteen Marines, led by Lt. Robert Denckhoff, provide network administration support and satellite communications, including access to the Joint Task Force Enabler suite, said Hyla, who with five other Marines helps Denckhoff's group expand the network. An 8-foot satellite dish gives them access to SIPRnet, Defense Switched Network, NIPRnet, video and teleconferencing through a value-added network.

The busiest time for the network support team is the 12 hours after a field headquarters move, Hyla said. Power issues tend to pose big challenges during that period, he said.

APC 1400 uninterruptible power systems from American Power Conversion Corp. of West Kingston, R.I., have been critical to the Marine unit's success, Hyla said.

'When you're out in the field, you never know when you'll lose power, and you need that extra 10 minutes to save your data,' he said.

Quick service

The commanders and their staffs generally receive network services within six to eight hours after a field headquarters moves, Hyla said.

'It's our link to the outside,' Hyla said of JTS Enabler, which debuted in 1996. The commander can move away from the ship and use command and control applications without using outside non-MEU help, he said.

But with the outside links can come exposure to viruses.

It is critical to get virus updates via Norton AntiVirus 5.0 for Exchange from Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif. The Marines acquire the updates at no charge through the Defense Information Systems Agency's antivirus site license, Hyla said.

For example, users who recently sent files infected with the W97M.Marker macro virus'whose payload damages Microsoft Word documents'received notices from MEU's network that they were sending infected documents, but Symantec's software protected systems, Hyla said.''That stops all of it,' he said.

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