Army will open global university on the Internet

Army will open global university on the Internet

By Susan M. Menke and

Bill Murray

GCN Staff

The Army will begin handing out notebook computers and printers to thousands of soldiers as early as December for online study, Army Secretary Louis Caldera announced earlier this month.

The program will create 'the largest education portal in the world' as the service tries to improve recruitment and retention in the ranks, he said.

Soldiers can take courses through the Army University Online Access portal at their barracks, which will be wired with broadband optical fiber, as well as at times during the duty week. The Army has earmarked $50 million for the project in fiscal 2001 and $550 million more over the succeeding five years.

The portal will offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees as well as skill certifications, Caldera said. Education and training will be offered at low or no cost to those on active duty, he said.

Spouses of Army personnel, as well as Army National Guard and Reserve citizen-soldiers will eventually be eligible to take the courses, he said.

Obstacle course

The service's biggest hurdle in improving recruitment and retention is the higher education opportunities available to young people, Caldera said.

Bids for the program will be solicited through CBDNet, the Commerce Business Daily online. After meeting with industry representatives Aug. 2, the Army will issue a draft request for proposals Aug. 11. It plans to issue the final RFP in September and award the contract in December 'to a single contractor or a consortium,' Caldera said.

The winning bidder will manage the technology and partner with universities for course material, he said.

Next year, Army officials will roll out the Army University Access Online program to two or three installations that have yet to be determined, though bases with fiber-optic wiring will receive first consideration, Caldera said.

By 2006, up to 1 million soldiers will have access to the system, he predicted.

Caldera credited Army National Guard officials with 'figuring out how to wire the armories and make them assets to the community' by allowing local groups to access the Guard's asynchronous transfer mode network for distance learning.

Soldiers who have high-speed Internet access through off-post telephones, digital subscriber lines, cable and other means may get on the portal sooner rather than later, said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman.

Portals of opportunity

Caldera, speaking in Washington at the
e-Gov trade show ceremony honoring agencies that have shown leadership in electronic learning, said the education portal will become 'a nervous system for the Army.'

The secretary would not say what types of notebooks the service will buy, except that they must be highly durable and portable. He said he has deferred decisions on barracks wiring, Internet service providers and computer choices to Lt. Gen. William H. Campbell, the Army's chief information officer, who is retiring this month.

The types of notebook PCs the Army buys 'will depend a lot on the systems bid after Aug. 2,' Boyce said. Ruggedized systems are more expensive than commercial ones, he said, and joked that the lightly ruggedized ToughBook from Panasonic Personal Computer Co. of Secaucus, N.J., a popular machine in the Defense Department, would be ideal if it had a DVD-ROM drive with a cupholder.

The Army will buy, not lease, the PCs, and officials want the machines to last for the duration of each soldier's education, Boyce said.

The service will ensure that the soldiers' Internet use is appropriate, and Army officials are concerned about potential security breaches, he said.

Army Secretary Louis Caldera says the online training courses will be free or low-cost to active-duty soldiers.

Working with a reliable Internet service provider that offers global access and getting 'equipment that's durable and deployable' are primary concerns, Caldera said.

The winning vendor will also provide individual Internet provider accounts for each user, maintenance services and help desk support.

T. Kevin Carroll, program executive officer for Standard Army Management Information Systems at Fort Belvoir, Va., manages the Total Army Distance Learning Program, which gave birth to Army University Access Online.

Caldera said he has not yet determined which Army organization will manage the education portal. More information about the Army University Access Online program is available on the Web, at

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