Finding a 'soldier in a haystack'

ORLANDO ' 'Saving Private Ryan' may have been a fictional movie about a group of Army soldiers looking for one of their own in France during World War II, but for the military services this is a real problem.

As late as 2003, the Army personnel department had an office dedicated to go looking for that one solider. But now, the service is well on its way to solving this fundamental problem.

The Army developed and fielded on a pilot basis the Deployed Theater Accountability System in both Iraq and Afghanistan to track and update in real time the movement of battalions of soldiers no matter where they are.

'It took 24 man hours a day to add up all the spreadsheets to tell Gen. Abizaid where the soldiers were,' said Lt. Commander John Kilgallon, product manager for the accountability system. 'We had little money and needed a new system now.'

DTS earned one of six Program Excellence awards at the Information Processing Interagency Conference, which is sponsored by the Government IT Executive Conference.

The Marines joined the Army in providing funding shortly after getting started with requirements planning in 2003 and launched the pilot less than a year later.

Now the system has been certified and accredited, has a solid backup system and the Joint Chiefs Staff likely will give the go-ahead for worldwide deployment.

'We had a lot of challenges, including we couldn't have double counting, we had to address network issues and culture issues,' Kilgallon said. 'Now we can find people when we need to, do a strength analysis and other important things.'

One example Kilgallon offered was when a lieutenant colonel came to Kuwait and asked for a group of specific people to swear them in as U.S. citizens. Instead of taking days or even weeks, soldiers pulled up the names, units, last recorded deployment and the battalion's telephone number in a matter of minutes. That, Kilgallon said, is a perfect illustration of the success of the DTS system.

The system depends on a thin system where ever the unit's notebook PC is a server that collects the soldier's data and transmits it to the main servers in the combat theater, Kilgallon said.

'The system runs across an IP network, usually the [Secret IP Router Network],' he said. 'It could connect through satellite or however they need to get on the Internet.'

Only one person can enter data, which gets routed first to the theater database and then back to all commanders in real time. The message packets are small, 2k to 3k, Kilgallon said.

'The architecture supports our ability to deploy this worldwide,' he said. 'Once you enter information in DTS, it will track you throughout your entire career. That is our goal.'

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