Marine Online draws few users among Corps' work force

Marine Online draws few users among Corps' work force<@VM>Stats at a glance

Officer says a lack of bandwidth and support from senior brass has kept the site from taking off

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

Although a Web site designed to improve the morale and well-being of Marines became operational two years ahead of schedule, a lack of officer support and limited bandwidth have stalled its growth, its chief architect says.


Maj. Darrell Philpot says the Marine Corps needs to spend more money on tactical bandwidth and also give e-mail access to all service members.


Marine Online, at www.mol.marines.com, started with a splash when the Marines collected 40,000 exit and retention surveys from departing active duty and reserve soldiers from June to September, said Maj. Darrell Philpot, the system's program manager. The study of why Marines were leaving the service was conducted on behalf of the Marine Corps Headquarters Manpower Branch, Philpot said.

If you build it...

The site, built on a shoestring budget of $2.3 million in 30 days, has languished since then, he said. The site has 50,000 registered users'active duty, reserve and retired Marines'out of a target audience of more than 530,000, he said.

By not embracing this technology, the service is missing a major opportunity to better retain its junior Marines, Philpot said.

'We were constrained by access,' he said. His entrepreneurial Marine Online promotional attempts netted several supportive servicewide messages, he said.

'It's still the Marine Corps,' which suffers from an aging infrastructure and an old-school mindset, he said. 'We built it, and they tried to come,' he said of his fellow Marines.

'Trying to do something like this in the Marine Corps is like pulling teeth. You have to fight every step of the way,' said Philpot, who, after 20 years in the service, will leave his post next month and then retire.

Marine Online users have free e-mail access, with no limit on relatively inexpensive memory, he said. Marines can look at their unit rosters and view pay and personnel data.

Marine Online has 144 18G Digital Equipment Corp. Enterprise Storage Arrays, Philpot said.

Other proposed enhancements'which would let soldiers change their addresses, paycheck direct deposit information and tax withholding rates, as well as let them submit leave requests, engage in leadership chat rooms and view performance evaluations'have not received approval.

'We need to let them know the true benefits of being a Marine,' he said.

Philpot wants local commissaries and exchanges to advertise'for example, diaper sales for married Marines with small children'through Marine Online, using the system's database to target customers, he said.

Special Services could report the availability of scuba gear or sailboats, and Marines could get information about family counseling services and other programs, he said.

'We could send them information relevant to who they are, where they're at, their rank, billet and military occupation specialty in the Marine Corps,' similar to the way unfilled spaces in training schools are used, he said. 'A lot of Marines are not aware of the opportunities.'

Marine Online uses Microsoft Commercial Internet System 2.5, a product for Internet service providers, Philpot said. The Corps pays 50 cents per user per month for the license, he said.

'We took the approach that we're going to build it for the whole Marine Corps,' he said.

The site, which runs under Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0, taps a Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 database.

A 9710 Library Storage Model from Storage Technology Corp. of Louisville, Colo., can perform full and incremental backups of up to 40T of data, Philpot said. Marine Online uses Catalyst 5505 switches from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose Calif., as well as Cisco hubs and routers, he said.

Gang of 20

Up to 20 contractors worked on Marine Online during its deployment. Four contractors from Global Management Systems Inc. of Rockville, Md., administer the system, Philpot said.

The site's growth is not a top priority for the service. Officials want to ensure that operating forces have everything they need, which means supporting troops back home may not have all they want, Capt. Peter Mitchell said.

'Bandwidth is more than just a personal issue, and it's very important to us. It helps people to do their jobs better,' he said.

Philpot said he disagrees with some officials' perception that Marine Online would weaken discipline in the Marines.

In the areas Marine Online initially tackles'morale, welfare, recreation and quality of life'commanders cannot do much to help their troops, he said.

'The Marines are going to the Internet and the Web just like the rest of the world. I just chose to do it in a visionary way rather than a reactionary way,' Philpot said.

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