By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
Fort Hood's Network Enterprise Center aims to be the post's communication nucleus, providing telephone and data service to its military and civilian populations.
The center's new 87,000-square-foot location - the former Meadows Elementary School campus - will help it better achieve that end, said Director Doug Babb.
"This building is seven years in the making," he said during an interview Monday. The official ribbon-cutting for the new location took place on Jan. 23. "It allows us to consolidate and create a synergy that ensures the war fighter and civilian populations have the best connectivity and support they can."
Previously, the Network Enterprise "Center" was that in name only, with its employees spread across post at up to eight different locations.
Deputy Director Brian Waggerman said the centralization can only lead to better collaboration among the center's 140 civilian employees, many of whom have served in the military in different branches and occupation specialties.
"It's a lot shorter now to (call a meeting) than having somebody come from across post," he said. "You can do it on a moment's notice."
From a customer service standpoint, said Philipa Pinkard, chief of the desktop support division, the move should improve service. Center staff, who monitor 21,000 email accounts and even more computers, are currently developing a new triage system for service requests, which come in day and night.
"We don't ever really shut down," said Pinkard.
The center is staffed physically 16 hours a day but carries on operations at all times.
In addition to on-post needs, Waggerman said the center serves deployed units, which must frequently communicate with their rear elements and access information at home.
The Network Enterprise Center's functions were once carried out by active-duty entities but, in recent years, the organization has been run by civilians.
Babb, a retired Army Signal Corps officer, said computers continue to revolutionize the way the military operates.
The difference in communications and technological capabilities between deployments to Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division, just several years apart during the last decade, was staggering in itself, he said.
"We were able to cover larger areas of terrain and ground" with technology, Babb said. "It's a primary command and control tool that allows us to collaborate and coordinate at levels never seen in years past."
Waggerman said hard drives in the late 1980s, when he began working with Army computer systems, were 75 pounds each and held relatively little data.
However, Babb said with added capability and dependence comes greater risk. He estimated that about 20 percent of the center's efforts support network security.
"That which makes us strong makes us vulnerable," he said. "That's why we have to mitigate threats and protect the information moving around."
The Army is continually updating its security policies to be vigilant against cyber and network security threats, such as the recent banning of thumb drives on Defense Department-issued computers several years ago, said Babb.
Threats can come from within the military, too. The WikiLeaks scandal in which an Army specialist is accused of copying classified information onto disks and giving it to the organization, drew public attention to the issue several years ago. But, Babb said, "There have always been events - and that was just another event - that are catalysts that cause us to go back and reassess (security)."
As the newly established Army Cyber Command comes into its own, the Network Enterprise Center will increasingly rely on it for guidance on such issues, said Babb.
Pinkard said that although the Network Enterprise Center's many responsibilities can be daunting, it's an exciting place to work.
"There isn't a dull moment," she said. "I don't make lists anymore, they make themselves. I never get bored."
For example, now that Pinkard said her staff has helped much of the installation migrate to the Army's new email system, she's preparing information about the coming introduction of the Windows 7 operating system to Fort Hood.
Waggerman said working at the Network Enterprise Center ensures variety. And although it can be taken for granted, it is mission-essential.
"There's an old Signal (Corps) saying: 'No commo, no combat,'" said the former soldier. "It's a kind of 'silent warrior' type of thing."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.