Operation Desert Storm is back in the news with the release of the film Three Kings, which graphically depicts the Gulf War as a series of gut-wrenching fire-fights and high-adrenaline car chases across the desert.
But Bobby Young, former head of IT deployment for Desert Storm and Desert Shield for the US Marines, said that the conflict was about more than guns and bravado. "That is so much bunk. It's good to feel a part of the brotherhood of the Marine Corps, but there was no kissing and telling like in the movie," he said.
Shock to the systems
He explained that getting the Marine Corps set up for the most technologically advanced war in human history required the deployment of eleven hundred Banyan servers. These were required to interconnect the communications infrastructure on the ground to SNA and to TCP/IP, as well as interoperate with the Army's systems and Marine Corps HQ in the US. And it all had to be done fast.
"We did this in a little more than 12 weeks. The infrastructure lasted from August until May and still works today in Marine Corps manoeuvres," he explained. "It wasn't only me, it was 180 marines and a pretty good team. There were 12 on the core team itself, communications was my speciality, and another guy had the operating system and another the applications."
The 48-year-old father of one with 27 years experience in IT and the military, said that from a people standpoint, the Nato commanders wanted to ensure everyone from the grunts on the ground to the fly-boys understood how technology could change the traditional battlefield.
All of a sudden, weapon systems and computers changed the attitude towards Desert Storm and Desert Shield, he said. Four to five hundred pages of orders that used to take hours to transfer under the old system now took about two hours to push up to the battlefield. "We were deploying logistics within a few hours," he added.
"There was a team of folks to build the infrastructure on the fly," he said. "The first thing we built was the remote job entry sites on IBM's 9370 on the battlefield. Tactical communications systems, hardened or ruggedised communications switchboards to put on the battlefield, as well as voice convergence and tactical satellites were also built."
"We didn't have a lot of money and had to do a lot with a lot less," he said, but "we fully exploited whatever worked. We couldn't use a VMX box, so we used a box from Hitachi. We worked with emulation code and took it to war."
One step ahead
Young pointed out that the Marine Corps has always been an innovator - far ahead of its time simply out of a necessity to stay one step ahead of the enemy. "The government initially operated TCP which was born out of a Department of Defense battlefield initiative," he said.
As well as taking part in Desert Storm, in 1990 Young was co-author of the Department of Defense's Government Open Systems Profile Transition Plan which basically spelled out how the Marine Corps should move from its proprietary systems to architecture based on more open systems.
This involved overhauling the whole approach of the central design activity to provide interoperability among services, best-of-breed applications and how to utilise these systems for the Milnet security site, he explained.
Milnet, or Military Network, was originally part of the Arpanet, the precursor to the internet, but was partitioned in 1984 to make it possible for military installations to have a reliable network service, while the Arpanet continued to be used for research.
"Milnet was pretty easy because much of the hard work had been done by defence agencies. A lot of the bugs were worked out," Young said.
Defence of the realm
Back in the mid-80s Young was also one of the original implementers of the internet for the US Department of Defense, and has continued to play a significant role in developing IP-based solutions for companies.
His job, in short, was to work with network topologies and to provide interoperability to run different networks, secure and not secure. Through 1988-1992, he carried out the Marine Corps' interoperability testing for the US government.
Young began in the infantry and got into a career path for application programmers. He then wanted to get into telecommunications and worked on providing logistics for the commanders' fingertips at the battlefield.
He also designed and implemented the Marine Corps' worldwide email and security services.
Nowadays, Young is vice president of future technologies and solutions integration at mainframe vendor Amdahl. He was appointed to this position in October 1999 but originally joined Amdahl in January 1997 to help build IT security projects.
Young has held both strategic and tactical IT positions in the Marine Corps and brings that intensity and discipline to the delivery of Amdahl's data management productivity tools. Young's responsibilities include acting as executive sponsor for Amdahl's data management initiatives and chairperson of the Technology Selection Board as well as overall co-ordinator for solutions integration.
Amdahl has four business groups and whenever cross company functions are the issue, it falls into Young's area. He also makes sure the technologies selected are the right ones.
He claims that while civilian life has its challenges, it doesn't really compare to his time in the forces. "I do miss it. Out here is hard to get used to. The camaraderie is just not on the outside. The biggest adjustment is the people, I miss the young troops and the sense of trust and brotherhood."
But he added that military retirement is not all it's cracked up to be. "You give them 20 years and they give you $18,000-$22,000 to go."
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