Marine Corps joins Army in rolling out personnel tracking application

DTAS 'eliminates the requirement of generating dozens of stovepipe reports at the lower levels of command, and ensures data quality.'

'Lt. Col. Marcus J. Messina

Rick Steele

Keeping track of Marines in far-flung theaters of operation is about to get easier, thanks to software that has earned high marks from the Army.

The Deployed Theater Accountability Software system has worked so well to give Army brass a day-by-day account of soldiers' whereabouts in far-flung theaters that the Marine Corps will begin using it in Iraq next month.

The Marines elected to use DTAS rather than develop their own system. Corps officials saw the system as a way to get enhanced capabilities while saving millions of dollars in research, development, procurement and start-up costs, said Lt. Col. Marcus J. Messina, DTAS team leader in the Marine Corps.

'This is what the personnel community has wanted for dozens of years,' Messina said.

The latest version of the system'2.0'is being tested. The upgraded version will be able to resolve accounts among the systems that make up the three-tiered architecture of the software.

'This is a way for the systems to automatically check with each other to verify they are in sync,' said Army Lt. Col. Joseph Klumpp, product manager for the Army Human Resource System. 'There's a lot of movement that could cause discrepancy between numbers.'

DTAS, developed by EDS Corp. under a $3.6 million Army contract, is the first personnel app to run on the Secret IP Router Network. It is a classified extension of the Army's Electronic Military Personnel Office system.

The application tracks military personnel for each service, as well as contractors, civilian government employees and foreign nationals, Klumpp said.

'We account for people by day, by location, by theater,' he said. 'If you're staying at the same base or camp or if you were to go to a different base, the personnel clerk would just update the location.'

The browser software consists of a three-tiered architecture: an enterprise database, a theater database and a mobile client system, according to Maj. Robert Cummins, systems integrator of DTAS and assistant project manager for the Army Human Resource System. The en- terprise database resides in a secure area at the Pentagon and is accessible via the Army Knowledge Online-Secret Web portal.

The enterprise database connects with eMILPO and Defense Manpower Data Center systems to receive information on de- ployed soldiers.

The theater database resides with the Coalition Forces Land Component Command and is the central repository for theater personnel data. The theater database only allows one location to be assigned to a soldier's record at any given time.

The mobile system includes desktop and laptop PCs linked into that theater's SIPRNet subnet and is available to all command levels, from battalion to theater level.

DTAS can operate offline, but needs a network link to synchronize data and keep files up to date.
The data gathered in DTAS will also help create an archive of a soldier's whereabouts for trend re-ports and analyses, Klumpp said.

The Army tested DTAS last summer and in October deployed servers to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait that could synchronize with the mobile system. There are 165 mobile systems at locations in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Qatar with 80,000 personnel records.

'We wanted to see how it handled in the environment,' Klumpp said, adding that DTAS servers are now being fielded in Iraq. 'It's been handling fairly well. The system is fairly flexible in respect to networks.'

The Marines' Messina said the benefits include:
  • The program meets a Defense requirement for each military service to enhance capabilities in reporting the deployed location of service members.

  • The application automates a simple morning report and rolls it into an intuitive summary statistic report, Messina said. 'This effectively eliminates the requirement of generating dozens of stovepipe reports at the lower levels of command, and ensures data quality by physically matching a Social Security number to each strength statistic report,' he added.

But the rollout of DTAS has not been without challenges. Officials faced some difficulty in installing the software with limited systems administrator personnel overseas, Klumpp said. 'The biggest issue in order to install the software is security requirements. Most users don't have system administrator rights, so installing it can take a little time.'

Sustaining adequate numbers of employees to ensure the program is staffed, managed and funded for use in multiple theaters is also challenging for the Marines.

'The main challenge with DTAS for the Marine Corps is maintaining a dedicated team to see the program through fielding, installation and training, and engineering change requirements,' Messina said.

Ironing out differences

Marine and Army personnel are working to iron out data formatting problems, now that the Corps is on board.

'The gap between the DTAS functionality for the Army and the Marine Corps continues to narrow as Army and Marine Corps technicians find new ways to make DTAS a joint Army and Marine Corps personnel data system,' Messina said.

Plus, users have been pleased with the automated tracking system, Klumpp and Messina said.
'Most of the feedback has been very positive. Users like the interfaces, the simplicity of it, and say they it is very intuitive,' Klumpp said.

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