Navy 'squids' receive Palm Vs

Navy 'squids' receive Palm Vs

Service plans wider deployment of handheld computers to enlisted personnel

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

The Navy bridged the technology gap between enlisted personnel and officers with its recent deployment of 115 handheld computers aboard a missile cruiser, officials said.

Naval Surface Force Atlantic officials in Norfolk, Va., added the Palm V computers to the 30 they previously used aboard the USS McFaul, said Mike Gray, the surface force's deputy chief information officer.

When sailors aboard the USS McFaul put their heads together they can come up with new uses for their Palm V handhelds, Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Lieser said.

Users can check their unclassified Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 e-mail by connecting to a LAN running Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 through 32 infrared ports on the ship, Gray said. They use log-in identification and passwords on the Palm V, he said.

Surface Force Atlantic officials are also testing a biometrics product, Sign-On from Communication Intelligence Corp. of Redwood Shores, Calif., he said.

Short range

The Navy paid $20,000 for the IR connector ports and software from Aether Systems Inc. of Owings Mills, Md., and about $300 apiece for the handheld computers from Palm Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., Gray said.

The wireless network has a short range'sailors can connect to the network when they're inside a room with an IR connector port'said Ken Whitehead, federal operations director for Aether Systems.

The McFaul has 300 sailors, so not every crew member received a Palm unit.

'We just haven't been able to get it out there to the entire crew,' Gray said. With enough funding, 'we want to get it out to the entire fleet.'

Squids get Palms

In addition to the ship's officers, enlisted personnel who are crew chiefs are receiving the Palm V devices; more enlisted personnel will receive them later.

One sailor was clearly excited about the Palm as a work platform for the 'blue shirts' and 'squids,' nicknames for enlisted sailors.

'I'm happy to see the Navy's trying to make a difference, empowering the squids,' said Petty Officer 2nd class Scott Lieser. It took a 10-minute crash course to learn the Palm V's basic features; he's picked up more by using it on the job, he said.

McFaul sailors can use the handheld computers to fill out evaluations and surveys, as well as download work schedules from the LAN, Whitehead said.

Time management

Sailors learn to deal with the 'hurry up and wait' way of life in the service, he said. Lieser can download his work schedule from the LAN in Hypertext Markup Language format and go over it during downtime.

Using a handheld computer like the Palm V lets sailors make better use of their time, Lieser said. They can download each day's plans for the crew, fill out reports on broken systems, fill out to-do lists, and transfer address and telephone book data back and forth between the LAN and the Palm V.

Enlisted sailors in a downsized Navy that faces retention problems need tools to share information, officials said.

'The Navy recognizes that new recruits are looking for careers in technology in the Navy, and we must be poised to offer that,' said Lt. S. Jane Alexander, a Navy spokeswoman.

'We realize that maintaining our ships, which includes cleaning and painting our ships, is a necessity, but we'd like to move to an era where we can streamline those jobs to be more efficient' so sailors can concentrate on their warfare specialty and improve morale, Alexander said.

Petty Officer 1st class David Hupp, an electronics technician aboard the McFaul, said he especially likes the ease of sorting through his e-mail messages on the Palm V.

Eight days after he started using the device, he was able to synch the data between his handheld and the LAN, he said. 'It gives you a wealth of information in the palm of your hand,' Hupp said.

The Navy's plans for the Palm V and other personal digital assistants are unclear.

However, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command officials in San Diego are already writing application programming interfaces for Aether Systems' wireless IR network ports, Whitehead said.

Whitehead added that he hopes that Gray gets his wish to deploy the Palm V throughout the Atlantic Fleet, which could precede the Pacific Fleet's adopting the platform.

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