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Human Support Element Added to Technology Mix

December 2001
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Specialist community built on foundation of continuous education.

The U.S. Navy is shoring up its information systems capabilities with the creation of a new restricted line designation for its officers. The information professional community will concentrate on space systems, information technology, network operations and protection, and enhanced fighting techniques. This new group joins the ranks of two long-established specialties in intelligence and cryptography.

The information professionals will be required to stay current with the changes in technological capabilities and applications. However, they will receive the full support of the Navy through training, education and a specially designed Web portal that will be their constant connection to each other.

In addition to having the opportunity to work with today’s latest technologies, the Navy’s information professionals may be eligible for accelerated advancement.

According to Rear Adm. Nancy E. Brown, USN, director, Fleet and Allied Requirements Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Washington, D.C., initiatives to formalize the development of expertise in information systems were explored as early as the 1990s. Several attempts were made to establish a specialized group, but no single solution was found. While advanced communications technologies have continually been adopted by the Navy, this new program addresses the people element of the equation by drawing together experts who will be able to focus primarily on information systems and to share solutions.

“One reason we are doing this in the Navy is that the Chief of Naval Operations and senior people know the importance of technology. It is a visionary leadership group,” the admiral relates. Vice Adm. Richard W. Mayo, USN, director of the Space, Information Warfare, Command and Control Directorate, has been a driving factor in the initiative for this new community, she adds.

The initial wave of members of the information professional (IP) community will be limited to officers with a rank of lieutenant through captain. Career paths will focus on two areas. One will develop technical specialists, while the other will prepare personnel for leadership roles, including executive and commanding officer.

Depending on the billet and the seniority of the individual, a lieutenant or lieutenant commander will report directly to the commanding officer. An experienced IP officer will research an issue, provide the senior officer with alternatives, then recommend the best course of action under the circumstances.

Because the community is new, the positions information professionals will hold are still in the notional stages. For example, a lieutenant may be a member of an information systems afloat staff or the communications officer. At shore commands, the lieutenant could be the action officer for a computer network defense task force. A lieutenant commander may provide support as an analyst, action officer or program manager at the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. Commanders may be the chief staff officer on an aircraft carrier or amphibious ship or could be assigned as the executive officer of a naval computer and telecommunications area master station. Billets for captains may include work in program management, the operational staff, research and development, NATO or the Command, Control and Communications Systems Directorate, J-6.

The announcement of the formation of the community last July received an overwhelming response from service members, the admiral says.

In September, a re-designation board met to review the applications of officers who currently work in the information technology field. Approximately 450 applicants were selected as the founding members of the community that became official on October 1. Officers who transition into the community will transfer at their regular projected rotation date.

Members of the community will work on bases, and there will be a significant number of sea billets, the admiral relates. “This will allow them to understand what the at-sea community needs. We’re not going to sit back at shore commands and make decisions and then put them out. We need to understand the information systems and what they need at sea in terms of knowledge management and network-centric operations,” she says.

Adm. Brown characterizes education as the cornerstone of this community, and the organization is being structured to ensure that personnel have access to the information they need. The Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, which acts as the center of excellence for the community, hosts the two-week indoctrination course that every information professional attends. The class includes a description of the goals for the IP community, the Navy’s expectations for personnel on maintaining proficiency in the information technology field, and the tools the service will provide to assist community members.

The school also will design individualized educational curricula for IP personnel that they will follow from the day they enter the community until they retire or separate from the service, the admiral offers. Instruction will take place through computer-based training, other military service schools, U.S. Defense Department schools, commercial training facilities and related associations’ professional development courses. “Education will be provided between the duty stations, so they can come to a command with what they need,” she says.

To facilitate the dissemination and sharing of information, the Naval Postgraduate School has designed and will maintain the IP community’s World Wide Web portal. Information will be distributed to the community’s members through this site, and it also will act as the techno-connection between them so they can share ideas, challenges, problems and solutions. “Because we are doing this ourselves, we can keep the information vital and maintain it as a valuable tool,” Adm. Brown emphasizes.

Industry also will participate in helping IP members remain proficient and up-to-date in both technical and leadership skills. Internships and fellowships with organizations outside of the Navy will allow the officers to learn about new technologies and problem-solving methods. However, the admiral points out that individuals who take part in these programs will be required to provide some deliverables upon returning to military service. “In other words,” the admiral says, “it is not just time away from the Navy working for a company. They will have to come back with something tangible.”

Commercial techniques already have been used in designing the IP community, Cmdr. Lynn Johnston, IP community manager, relates. “We looked at how industry was attracting new people and retaining employees. We found that although monetary compensation was important, high on the priority list for people seeking positions was access to training and education, opportunities to use what they were learning and prospects for advancement in their careers. Retention figures go up if you train your people, send them to a job where they use the information and then give them time to continue their education in their career path. That’s one of the reasons this program has been pulled together in this format,” she explains.

Other approaches to attracting and retaining personnel are under consideration as well. One possibility would be to model the community after the medical corps. Experienced individuals from the commercial sector who are interested in joining the Navy may come in at an accelerated rank, and current enlisted personnel may be able to advance faster if they have a specific talent, the admiral notes.

Although the current cadre of information professionals is limited to a rank of lieutenant and above, the Navy plans to expand this force. The goal is to insert enlisted personnel into the community in fiscal year 2003 and ensigns and lieutenant junior grade officers in fiscal year 2004. One potential pool for new members would be the Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, and Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs at universities, the admiral relates.

Although the need for this specialized community has existed for a while, this may be the optimal moment for its initiation. The installation of the Navy’s most recent technological upgrade, the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), is well underway (see page 35), and all shore commands are due to be up and running on it in 2003.

“The NMCI and IT-21 [Information Technology for the 21st Century] are on the move, so this is a good time to move on this concept. The Navy has always been on the front line in terms of technology, but we have not significantly developed the human piece. That’s what this does. You can have many networks and connectivity, but if you don’t engage the people it’s not as effective as it can be,” Adm. Brown relates.

The NMCI is a great opportunity for information professionals, the admiral contends. “We have contracted for the shore piece of the network, and operators will work with the contractor and there will be the same training requirement when they are in the contractor facility. They will see how the company does the work at shore commands and be able to do the same thing at sea. Technology and processes are different now than they were before NMCI because the Navy will be different than it was before NMCI,” she says.

Although projects such as the NMCI affect commands, the admiral expresses uncertainty about the real effect the war on terrorism will have on how the Navy operates. “I’m not sure it actually changes things. We always knew the importance of information. Now we can exploit it better. This gives us another reason to establish a community rather than have a group of people doing it part time. These will be people who can be trusted advisers to any commander fighting a war,” the admiral explains.

“The information professional community will be a dynamic community. It will always be growing and changing because technology is always growing and changing,” she concludes.