This Time, Defense Asks Soldiers to Speak

The problem with most high-level military conferences held to discuss delivering services to soldiers is that the soldiers are absent from the discussion. They’re off fighting wars.

What you end up with is a bunch of generals and SESers talking milestones and processes that move at a glacial pace, which does little to solve problems faced by soldiers in the unfriendly environs of Iraq and Afghanistan.

But last month, Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), broke this worn out pattern at the agency’s customer conference by inviting an Army and Marine tactical communicator to speak. He told me that their presentations were not “very flattering on the service we provide forward, but it was their experience and told from the ground forward. About 3,500 folks listened to them and they may get rated as the most valued speakers we had.”

DISA has now posted on its Web site ( the presentation of one of those speakers, Army Co. Timothy Kokinda (CQ), who served last year as the assistant chief of staff for command, control communications and computers in Iraq. His take on the real-world experiences is definitely worth a read.

For example, while speakers at conferences Inside The Beltway have talked for the past decade about a wonderful new world in which data is fungible and easily exchanged, Kokinda, along with other U.S. and multi-national forces in Iraq, must work with 300 stand-alone databases and “standards for interoperability are non-existent or unenforceable.” Plus, Kokinda added, there are no joint data networks.

John Grimes, DOD chief information officer and assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration, has for the past two years made spectrum management one of his top priorities, which has implications for all forces deployed to Iraq, which run daily into gauntlets of radio-controlled improvised explosive devices (IED).

But Kokinda told the DISA conference that soldiers face significant spectrum challenges in Iraq, including the need to manage 82,000 frequencies used by U.S. and allied forces, while at the same time countering the IED threat. The spectrum management tool fielded by the DISA Joint Spectrum Center ( is not up to the job and needs to be replaced, he said.

The other speaker was Marine tactical communicator Lt. Col. Loretta Vandenberg, who also served in Iraq last year.

Kudos to Croom and DISA for not only inviting Kokinda to share his experiences but also for posting his briefing slides for the rest of us to read.