Computer manufactures have made it easy for consumers to purchase, set up and “plug-and-play” with the latest technology available. From the workplace to school to managing personal finances, our everyday lives revolve around the convenience and accessibility of computers. However, what happens when this convenience of computers and technology disappears? What would it be like if you took your computer out of the box, had to install every single program and application, and then had to arrange your own network, including a printer? For some, it wouldn’t be a problem; for many, it could be a real challenge.
Pre-commissioning Unit (PCU) America (LHA 6) is taking on that challenge, but the crew is not just installing one computer with one printer. They are building a network of more than 600 computers and about 100 printers throughout the 844 foot long and 106 foot wide ship.
America is soon to be the Navy’s newest amphibious assault ship whose mission will be to embark, transport, control, insert, sustain and extract elements of Marine air-ground task forces, and support forces by helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft. The U.S. Navy officially accepted delivery of the ship during a custody transfer ceremony, April 10.
Since that time, America’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat and Intelligence (C5I) Department has been working on the ship’s computer and network installation in preparation for the ship’s upcoming sail away and South America transit this summer.
“This is a very large network, and the project as a whole is a huge undertaking,” said Chief Information Systems Technician (SW) David Conway, Naval Tactical Command Support System (NTCSS) administrator. “We have roughly 700 machines on this network and about 30 Sailors working to install them.”
The beginning of the network installation commenced nearly a year ago as Sailors worked with contractors to ensure wiring and network drops were in the right place. They developed a computer distribution list and schematics for every space on board, showing the computers allocated for each space. Once the list was completed, the computers were ordered, shipped and stored in a warehouse until the crew was able to officially take custody of the ship.
The day after the ship’s custody transfer, the America crew moved all of the computer hardware stored in the warehouse onto the ship.
“We had a giant working party to bring on all the computers in one day, which was crazy,” said Information Systems Technician 1st Class Jarod Warrick (SW/AW), automated digital processing work center supervisor. “There were more than 80 pallets of computers, monitors, keyboards and mice. We started moving [the pallets] first thing in the morning and finished just before nightfall.”
Once all of the hardware was on board, the ship’s information systems technicians divided into three separate teams to coordinate the imaging and deployment of the computers, as well as a trouble call team to fix small network issues as the network started to come online.
Before any computers could be deployed to work centers and offices around the ship, the imaging team had to get a hold of them first.
“Each type of computer is going to have a different image on it, which is essentially, the software and different applications on each computer,” said Warrick. “[Imaging on average] takes approximately one hour per computer before it can be deployed to a space. We also have to take everything out of the original packaging, get the serial number and assign [the computer] to a space.”
Warrick also explained some computers require more imaging than others. For example, medical computers require medical databases, and the ship’s store requires a specific data base to track inventory.
Once a computer is imaged, it goes to the deployment team. The deployment team coordinates with each department to move the imaged computers to their permanent locations. Then, an information systems technician will hook up the computer and put it on the domain, adding it to the ship’s network.
“We have a lot of enthusiastic junior Sailors that are making this really easy,” said Conway. We are physically moving these machines: printers, central processing units, monitors and accessories, up and down ladders. When you have a team that comes to work and has a lot of energy and youth, it makes a big difference.”
The installation is physically challenging and demands technical expertise.
“This also requires people that are able to pick things up rather quickly,” said Conway. “We have chiefs that are brining a lot of technical knowledge, but most of our [ITs] came here straight from ‘A’ school. They received a lot of textbook training there. What we are seeing is when they get on the computers, they are picking things up really quickly. One thing I’ve noticed, and perhaps it is something with this generation, is that they are really familiar and comfortable with computers. You show them something one time, and they got it. It makes a huge difference, because you don’t have to spend a whole lot of time training them.”
Another aspect of the install is maintaining the domain as it comes online and solving connectivity issues as more and more computers join the network.
“We also have people working on the trouble ticket team,” said Conway. “As flawlessly as you can try to set up each machine, there are always going to be bugs in the system. Computers are going to drop off the domain, and people are going to call and say that they can’t log on, can’t open a certain application or other small problems. We have people in place on the trouble ticket team that can remotely log onto the machine to fix the account.”
“I would say that the biggest challenges have stemmed from the fact that this is a new ship,” said Information Technician 1st Class (SW/AW) Lydale Hyde, combat systems communications division leading petty officer. “As we are getting up and running, new issues are popping up as far as trouble calls. For my shop, the networking and customer service never stops. It’s around the clock.”
Although the install has been very demanding, Hyde said he is proud of the effort his team has put into the project and the unwavering enthusiasm displayed by all C5I Sailors to successfully “connect” America.
“These Sailors have been putting their hearts into this install,” said Hyde. “This young team is eager to learn, highly motivated and [are optimistic] go-getters.”