Signal Embraces Generational Changes

June 1, 2016
By Julianne Simpson
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People, training and technology move from analog to digital in the post-Vietnam world.

This is the fourth in a series of interviews with signaleers, one for each of SIGNAL Magazine's seven decades, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of AFCEA International.


Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello, USA (Ret.), classifies himself as a “digital immigrant.” He did not grow up with or train on computers, simulators or mobile phones. Retired for 13 years, he now admits he never totally understood what the people at the help desk were saying when he would call about a problem with his computer or phone. 

Gen. Cuviello’s signal officer courses took place in the classroom and always were instructor-led. “We learned not only the theory behind the sandbox, but also got hands-on—‘analog,’ if you will—training with an actual box,” he says. “Now it is all about teletraining, simulations and virtual sandboxes.”

After the Vietnam War, Gen. Cuviello witnessed a move from what he describes as an “analog” way of doing business to digital. This has affected everything from technology to people and training.  

“In Vietnam, we were focused on point-to-point communications. Then we moved to multichannel, and now we are using a network connection,” Gen. Cuviello says. Tubular radios shifted to transitional types; manual and ultra high frequency communications became mobile; and communication center messaging evolved into email and social media, he observes.

“To me, voice and hearing on everyone is analog. The digits on your fingers are digital because you use those to type. But sometimes that doesn’t connect between generations,” Gen. Cuviello states. He says he believes the misuse of communication today is not technical, but cultural or generational. “Nine times out of 10, it’s a user problem,” he says. 

Once there is a level of leadership in the military that has trained in an all-digital world, problems will subside, Gen. Cuviello asserts. “Everything has become reasonably simple and ubiquitous. All you have to do now is turn it on and it works,” he says.

One of the downfalls of communication during the late 1970s to mid-1980s was the lack of security, the general says. “All of our communications were unsecure. The bad guys were always reading our mail, especially during the Cold War,” he says. Once security moved to the fore, there was a shift to coded point-to-point communications, then bulk encryption and now today’s networked multilevel security. 

“The evolution of who [signaleers] are, what we do and the equipment we have to do it with has moved us from command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) to cyber,” Gen. Cuviello points out. “The one thing I always tell people, though, is that cybersecurity is only one part of cyber. Cyber is not security. Cyber is electronic, virtual, wired.

“The cyber domain is the world we live in now, like land, sea and air from an electronic standpoint,” he continues. Because of this, the military is very slowly moving in the direction where signal and cyber school take place at the same location. 

“In the ’70s, we all had specialties. One guy worked on the radio, and another did surveillance, but these things are now meshing into cyber and building a crescendo that cyberwarriors and signaleers need the same training,” Gen. Cuviello adds. “It’s a generational thing that is causing us to move in this direction, and we will lose soldiers if we don’t do it this way.”

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