News: Soldiers push communications systems integration to next level during VALEX
Story by Lt. Col. Deanna Bague
FORT BLISS, Texas - The day after Labor Day, soldiers from 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, began their validation exercise that involves the installation, configuration, integration and validation of thousands of pieces of equipment, much of it new technology that is networked into hundreds of vehicles.
All of the equipment must be validated before it is cleared to deploy to the field for the upcoming Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 13.1 exercise, where soldiers will use it in an operational tactical environment.
Lt. Col. Don Willadsen, the sensors and applications branch chief within the Network Integration Division of the Brigade Modernization Command, or BMC, said the validation is to make sure that the entire path through the network is functioning. It's integration on the next level of all the different devices that have to talk in that particular tactical scenario type of event, he added.
"That is complicated," said Willadsen. "Some of it has not been done before except in a laboratory, and of course a laboratory environment can never completely and accurately replicate the complexities of a field environment with real soldiers, and real Army vehicles and real Army communications systems."
The devices support mission command, intelligence, logistics and other systems to give warfighters the information they need, when they need it, in a format that they can use on whichever device they have. It all has to interoperate, said Willadsen.
Soldiers said they are working through the different challenges the evolution of technology brings. Staff Sgt. Calvin Arendt, a tank commander with C Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, said there is a lot of motivation and enthusiasm among the soldiers.
"As far as being excited, at all levels we're excited to use it," said Arendt. "Now the excitement starts to go away once these bugs and these issues start to appear while we're out training. We want things to flow smoothly [and] the timelines to meet up, [but] some of the issues come up and we can't meet these timelines, that's when we're not as excited. But to be a part of this new technology and to help the Army save money or introduce a new piece of equipment that can save a soldier's life, that's really exciting for all of us."
Arendt said another concern is the inability to have all of the answers about the new equipment for his subordinate soldiers at his fingertips.
"Myself as a tank commander, I'm supposed to be able to answer any question that they have on this piece of equipment," he said.
Because the equipment is as new to him as it is to his soldiers, both are learning simultaneously. It's something he is adapting to because this did not occur when he joined the military almost 10 years ago.
It's a huge step, he said, junior soldiers are receiving a tremendous amount of knowledge on the new technology, which is transforming them into subject-matter experts.
"As a person who wasn't really big into computers, I didn't really know much when I came in, whereas a private can talk to me about band width and data capability," said 1st Lt. Joshua Jenks, a platoon leader with C Company. "Sometimes I can look to my left and ask a dumb question about bandwidth, and just simply based on outside experience and growing up in the technology era, he knows the answer."
Jenks said soldiers' skills are leveraged during the validation to help identify technical problems that might arise before rolling out to the field, which according to BMC officials helps save resources such as fuel and time.
In addition, the collaboration with other support personnel made available helps maintain a progression in which soldiers can see how their recommendations about the systems from previous NIEs have been addressed, added Jenks.
"Getting down here with the civilian contractors who have never been in a tank, mixing heads with our junior leaders, our senior leaders and getting them together to formulate a plan that will work is really something that has come along with the validations starting from the first [Network Integration Evaluation 11.2] to now 13.1, and if it continues to go on, it will definitely pay off in the long run," said Jenks.