Army brings digital training to the troops

J.P. Penn manages the Army's DLS facility at Fort Meyer, Va.

Olivier Douliery

Thousands of soldiers have received training at facilities around the globe, saving the Army time and money by bringing education to its personnel rather than transporting them.

The effort has been so successful that the service is testing the next step'deployable temporary training facilities that will provide even greater speed and flexibility.

The Army is piloting the temporary facilities in some of its most important theaters of operation including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai Peninsula.

'The vision is to support DOD's training transformation,' said Col. Sharon L. Holmes, project manager for the Army's Distributed Learning Systems program. 'Quality training is at the core of the Army's mission.'

Fixed digital training facilities, dispersed globally at active-duty and Reserve sites, offer soldiers a wide array of computer-based training.

The Army has been using the facilities since 1999 and operates 263 sites worldwide.

The temporary facilities will rely on notebook PCs rather than the desktop computers used at fixed sites. The prototypes are deployed on transport aircraft in packages that include a tent, tables, chairs and satellite communications equipment.

Within the next year, the Army plans to conduct a contract competition for wider development of the deployable units. The Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is still determining how many initial units it needs.

Both the fixed and deployable facilities are part of the Distributed Learning System, formerly the Army Distance Learning Program, based in Newport News, Va. Two hundred workers, mostly contractors, support the DLS program.

TRADOC determines the content of the courses and the offerings each year. DLS deploys and maintains the distributed training infrastructure.

'We're not the owners of it or the builders of' the content, said J.P. Penn, DLS fielding manager. Penn, a contractor, works out of the operations and sustainment division in Newport News. 'Our primary focus is on the infrastructure.'

Holmes said the digital training facilities are classroom-sized and 'could conceivably have 16 different people doing 16 different types of training because they all have headsets and therefore won't interfere with each other.'

DLS also hosts an enterprise management center at Fort Eustis, Va., that manages all the fixed facilities worldwide.

'From that one facility, we can reach out and remotely control facilities, images and virus updates. It also has a 24-7 help desk,' Holmes said.

Penn said soldiers and reservists can access coursework via CD-ROM or over the Internet.

The centers feature PCs with 17-inch monitors and CD-ROM and floppy disk drives, all running Microsoft Windows 2000.

Thousands of courses

At both the fixed sites and the deployable prototypes, soldiers have access to thousands of Web-based courses unique to the service. Some courses are conducted via videoconferencing or teleconferencing or are multimedia.

The program is mostly for soldiers who don't have their own computers, Holmes said.

Soldiers who own high-speed computers can download the courses anywhere, she said.

DLS is separate from eArmyU, the Army's electronic learning portal from which soldiers can earn college degrees online.

'DLS was stood up to improve unit readiness and deliver military training, while eArmyU provides for the soldier's civilian education,' Holmes said.

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