INTERVIEW: Col. Thom E. Tuckey, the warfighters' trainer

Funding challenges Army training

Col. Thom E. Tuckey

Amid budget constraints, the information management personnel at the Army's Training and Doctrine Command must modernize aging systems and build smart classrooms to train tomorrow's soldiers. Col. Thom E. Tuckey, deputy chief of staff for information management at TRADOC in Fort Monroe, Va., is in the thick of that challenge.

Tuckey assumed his current position in October 1999. His career with the Army has included two tours in Germany, service in operations Just Cause, Desert Shield and Desert Storm as commander of an airborne signal battalion, and a stint as a professor of military science at Carnegie Mellon University.

His military and civilian education includes coursework at the Army War College, a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Ohio University, and a master's degree in public administration from Shippensburg University. His military honors include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and Defense Meritorious Service award.

Free-lance writer Merry Mayer interviewed Tuckey by telephone.

GCN: How big an issue is funding in moving ahead on information technology projects?

TUCKEY: Information management and technology is no longer a separate entity competing for funds. Information management funding is now incorporated across a full spectrum of functional areas, most predominantly in the installation area or base operations area. That is where we go to get our funding. But because we have lost that independent visibility, it's much more of a challenge to get funding in the information management area.

What we have done at the Training and Doctrine Command is to identify standard levels of service. It is an activity-based costing method of breaking down all the tasks and services within the information management area into individual easily or more easily measurable areas using industry standard metrics. So we can say if you want this level of service, we can pretty accurately identify how much it is going to cost you to acquire that level of service.

GCN: Do you expect the budget situation to improve, get worse or stay about the same?

TUCKEY: The budget projection'and it is only a projection'in the out years shows some growth for information management. It doesn't show a lot of growth, but at least it is an uphill slant.

The advantage of using the standard levels of service that we've developed is that we can clearly identify the level of pain if we don't get the funding that we need. It really presents a valid argument to those who have to fight for the funds.

GCN: Where are you in building classrooms for the Army's Classroom XXI project to create smart training facilities?

TUCKEY: The plan was to modernize 270 classrooms at 27 schoolhouses between fiscal 1998 and 2009. To date, the command has fielded 35 high-tech classrooms, which have independent workstations with computers that are interconnected.

The classrooms can be networked together so that you can have a classroom at one location working simultaneously with a classroom at another location using the latest in streaming video technology. They are high-speed systems.

GCN: Have there been any obstacles to moving ahead with this project?

TUCKEY: There hasn't really been a major obstacle other than the same obstacle that exists for everything: prioritized funding. As the funding is available to build more classrooms, more classrooms are added.

There are costs besides just the classroom itself and the state-of-the-art computer systems and networking capabilities. There is also a requirement to take classrooms built in the 1960s and '70s and upgrade them to something that will function as a computer lab.

GCN: One of your responsibilities is to establish policy for IT acquisitions. Can you talk a little about that?


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TUCKEY: Within the command, we proscribe a regulation procedure for acquisition of hardware and software.

The process puts the director of information management at each installation in the approval chain and eventually this office in the approval chain depending on the dollar threshold of what is being bought. Once a buy reaches a certain threshold, it gets elevated to the command level. But having the director of information management at the installation level involved in the chain ensures several things.

One factor is that what they buy must be in concert with a proscribed list of equipment that we have established. Each year the command prints and publishes a preferred products list that identifies, not necessarily the type of computer, but the configuration of the computer and the monitor, what capabilities it should have and what minimum speed it should have, and what software and operating system.

But the real important thing is to make sure that the director of information management at each installation is involved in all procurements to ensure compatibility.

GCN: Do you expect any changes in the acquisition process?

TUCKEY: It is getting easier. A lot of information technology and a lot of computers today are now below the threshold of government credit card purchases. So it is a lot easier to buy some items at the user level.

Most of the applications now run on the Web, and there is a greater focus on the individual workstation requirements, rather than centralized requirements or centralized software functions.

Most software runs on the PCs at the individual workstations. That is a change in how Army organizations do business.

The future may hold a change back to a more centralized process.

We are also working on policies for a lot of the wireless technology that is coming along with personal digital assistants, wireless LANs, and cell phones and pagers that have e-mail capability. There are a lot of policy issues and security issues that need to be considered, and we are working on those issues in concert with the Army and the Defense Department.

GCN: Your office also provides architectural guidance to organizations throughout the command to ensure systems interoperability. How do you approach that mission?

TUCKEY: We publish a document that lays out annually the architecture as we see it currently and projected in the years to come so that everyone in the command is working toward the same objective. The document is pretty specific and also includes a section about the preferred products list.

Across the command, we're making progress in individual workstation improvements, but lifecycle replacement of computers within the military puts us on a five-year schedule, which is pretty far behind industry. It is also not something we can fund at this level.

GCN: The command will be producing new doctrine and training techniques for the Initial Brigade Combat Team. What kinds of technologies will be included?

TUCKEY: Historically, the Army has relied on live training exercises to get the most beneficial training. It still is the best training out there, the most realistic. But it is also the most resource-intensive in the use of ammunition. Putting a unit in a field takes a large training area and time to get the unit or multiple units together.

IBCT is the first step in a highly complex, sophisticated training system that will incorporate live training with what we are calling virtual and constructive training.
Virtual training is the use of simulators, for instance, for the individual weapons platform. Simulators will exist'and many of them already do'that you can put a soldier in and the soldier is convinced he is in the turret of a tank or behind a piece of artillery.

Constructive training is the use of modeling. It is primarily used in training the leadership folks. When they make a decision to do something, the model will tell them what the result of that decision was, and then they are forced to make more decisions.

IBCT, through the use of a lot of this technology, much of which is still being developed, will incorporate all three of these methods into a single, almost seamless training opportunity.

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