Defense Executive of the Year: Boutelle's vision kept the military connected in Iraq

The Army scored a coup by leasing commercial satellites ahead of the Iraq war, but ultimately the Defense Department 'should be 80 percent on government satellites.'

'Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, Army CIO

During the Iraq war, the Army's battlefield communications flowed with unprecedented speed and reliability, keeping nearly every soldier connected, Defense Department officials have said.

Warfighters used the secret version of the Army Knowledge Online Web portal to share information throughout the Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom operations.

Now Army CIO, the man in charge of the networking effort in Iraq and behind the model for AKO, Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle has been on a mission to improve Army communications since his transfer to the Signal Corps in Washington in 1970.

Coming up through the ranks and working in IT as a senior Pentagon staff member honed Boutelle's leadership skills, said his predecessor as Army CIO, recently retired Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello.

'None of us do this alone,' said Cuviello, now a vice president for information infrastructure at Lockheed Martin Corp.

'But when it comes to getting things done, he's the go-to guy. He knows who to talk to, who to assemble'whether that's program managers, field commanders or contractors'and who to ask for advice. He's a master at blending management with leadership,' Cuviello said.

Since his stint as one of the key architects for Task Force XXI, the Army's experimental digital evaluation force, Boutelle has repeatedly shown what Cuviello called 'enlightened leadership.'

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, 80 percent of the Army's communications traveled via leased commercial satellites, a deal Boutelle made early, before demand drove prices through the roof.

Hearing good advice

'That was the result of a value judgment by a bunch of very smart people who work for me,' Boutelle demurred. 'As we watched what was happening in the Middle East, they came to me and said, 'You know, we may need to have access to a lot more satellite communications than we have. The only way we can do that is to reserve that time now.' '

The cash outlay was substantial, Boutelle said. 'As with all decisions, there was a certain amount of risk, but in leasing satellite transponders early, we beat out CNN and Fox. But it was temporal, we did not have to outbid them.'

In retrospect, the decision looks golden. Because of it, during Iraqi Freedom, commanders, soldiers and U.S. allies were able to maintain near-constant, real-time contact via satellite and IP communications. New data was propagated throughout the system within four seconds.

Despite his communications coup, Boutelle said leasing satellites from commercial suppliers should be a one-time event.

'We should be 80 percent on government satellites,' he said. 'But we don't have a constellation that will support it today.'

The plans for a next-generation communications system feature a new constellation of satellites to support Boutelle's vision of an Army run on a pervasive global network.

And AKO is the portal to that network. Warfighters in Iraq used a combination of AKO with the Secret IP Router Network for staff coordination, daily operations briefings and operations notes. AKO with the Non-Classified IP Router Network carried sensitive and unclassified information such as soldiers' personnel, medical and financial records, and e-mail.

Conceived of as the Army's Enterprise Portal, it is also the central gateway to Army Knowledge Centers.

AKO today has 1.6 million registered account holders, 571,000 documents in its knowledge collaboration centers and serves 594 Army communities, said Howard Tucker, a civilian AKO contractor at CherryRoads Technologies Inc. of Parsippany, N.J.

AKO has saved millions of dollars in travel avoided and time saved, he said. Soldiers once had to fly into Washington to check their personnel records before Selection Board hearings for promotions, he said. 'Now they can stay where they are and do it all online.'

As program executive officer for command, control and communications systems at Fort Monmouth, N.J., Boutelle had overseen development of what was to become the model for AKO, a prototype that was never intended to be operational.

But the prototype performed well, and AKO became an Army presence. In late 2001, it was put to a new test.

'About the time of Sept. 11, we were bringing up some of the systems online,' Boutelle said, 'and the chief of staff of the Army said, 'I want this online, and I want 1.4 million people on it, and I want it operationalized. And by the way, I want you to do one for the secret side as well, the SIPRnet side.' '

Recalling that period, Cuviello, then Boutelle's boss, said, 'He shines in times of crises.'

Cuviello added: 'He brought the partners together, then came to me and said, 'This is what it will take to do what you want to do.' It meant I could go to [our chiefs] and say: 'This is what it will cost, this is how long it will take, give us your blessing, and we'll get on with it.' '

Boutelle and his team ran with it. They took over the backup equipment for the unclassified NIPRnet version of AKO to run the quickly set up secret version.

Today, Tucker said, 'it's growing faster percentage-wise than the unclassified side.'

Boutelle has only held the Army CIO command since July 3 of this year; he's just getting started.

[Revised 10/21/2003]

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