Reserve Signaleers open Cisco Academy

Reserve Signaleers open Cisco Academy – News

Shawn Herron

FORT MEADE, Md. — 311th Theater Signal Command, an Army Reserve unit based here, made history in August 2002 when it welcomed the first students into its Cisco Systems Networking Academy. This event marked the first and only certified Cisco Academy in the Army Reserve.

Spearheaded by MAJ Bernard Smith, Cisco Academy program manager, the impetus behind the establishment was simple and important: training. Army Reserve Signaleers needed a way to complete training commensurate with their active-duty counterparts. While this problem may be simply stated, the solution isn’t so clear.

The level of knowledge required to set up and deploy systems with the new network standards continually rises. Everybody now requires email, access to web resources and web-based reporting systems to do their jobs. That is all data networking and it’s all new, according to MAJ Kenneth Runyon, network-operations development officer for 311th Theater Signal Command. Before, if you could pick up a green phone, dial a number and connect, it was a go. That’s not good enough anymore.

“Whether you provide satellite, voice or data communications,” said Smith, “it all links to a router.” Having someone trained to configure those routers and associated network designs is critical to successful Signal operations in today’s network-centric Army.

The Signal Regiment trains switch operators, radio operators and cable installers, and we need to maintain this, but we also need to train soldiers to be router operators. “They’ll be out there configuring routers–whether it’s a strategic or tactical site,” said Runyon. “We need to maintain our transmission-oriented competencies and expand the data-oriented services we provide.”

The skills the Cisco Academy teaches are fundamental to this competency. The 311th Theater Signal Command’s academy currently provides instruction in semesters one through four of the Cisco networking curriculum that leads to the Cisco Certified Networking Associate-level certification. While the course is primarily designed to train soldiers how to design networks and use the equipment, they are encouraged to acquire Cisco’s industry certification.

“The training culminates with technicians and Signaleers technically proficient in understanding and designing both tactical and strategic network architectures in an integrated environment,” said Smith. “The Cisco Academy program will enable Signaleers to further understand information-technology plug-and-play operations as part of the Signal Regiment’s transformation.”

The Cisco curriculum is part of occupational training for enlisted soldiers and noncommissioned officers in Military Occupation Specialty 74B, warrant officers with 251A and 250N specialties and officers branched 25A or holding functional areas 53, 24 and 30 designations. The active-duty version of the course at the regional Cisco Academy at Fort Gordon, Ga., is about eight weeks long. For a typical Reservist who performs only two weeks of active duty a year, this makes maintaining technical proficiency in required networking skills a particular challenge.

The 311th Theater Signal Command needed to provide ongoing state-of-the-art training with quality at the forefront that covered all the technical skills required of a 21st-century Signal soldier while still meeting all of its mission requirements–and in a format that worked around the demands of its soldiers’ full-time civilian jobs and lives. The solution: open its own training academy.

With the support of the Fort Gordon regional Cisco office, Smith began building an academy at 311th Theater Signal Command. To become certified by Cisco and meet Army training requirements, 311th’s academy had to comply with strict standards from Cisco, Fort Gordon’s regional Cisco office and the Army’s Signal Center and School. Some of those requirements included a facility and equipment to support the training and meet operational requirements, Cisco-trained and–certified academy instructors, technical proficiency relevant to the organizational mission, a Smartnet agreement and a memorandum of agreement among 311th, Fort Gordon’s regional Cisco office and Cisco. The MOA outlined operational, administrative and auditing requirements.

With its own academy, 311th Theater Signal Command is able to offer classes in a part-time evening and weekend schedule. Two classes graduated in March. The first class was a daytime class offered four hours per day Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the full-time staff. The other session was offered four hours a night Tuesday and Thursday and four hours every Saturday morning –on drill weekends the schedule is eight hours on Saturday. Both sessions lasted a little over six months. The time spent in the classroom and curriculum equals the active-duty version.

This academy is a testament not only of the Army Reserve’s ingenuity in overcoming the challenge of maintaining go-to-war readiness with only 62 training days per year, but also of the commitment level of the individual Reservist who is willing to spend 12-16 hours a week of his or her personal time to stay technically proficient.

Another CCNA class starting in April will graduate in August. Plans have begun to add semesters five and six to the curriculum, leading to the Cisco Certified Networking Professional level.

Within the 311th TSC’s academy, Smith has established a dialogue with authors of the Cisco training materials to begin on-site preparations to offer training in the Cisco Certified Trainer and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert curriculums.

Through a partnership with CW2 Robert Denmark and SFC Susan Bennett of the Fort Gordon regional Cisco office; Laura Harrison of U.S. Army Reserve Command’s G-6, Fort McPherson, Ga.; SGT Curly Henry of 335th Theater Signal Command, Atlanta, Ga.; and MAJ Robert Boyer of Army Reserve Information Operations Command in Adelphi, Md., 311th Theater Signal Command is coordinating on replicating its academy at more Reserve Component units–specifically at 335th Theater Signal Command, ARIOC and three other locations stretching from Georgia to Pennsylvania. Follow-on initiatives include establishing regional academies throughout the Army Reserve.

With many of its soldiers working as information-technology professionals in their civilian jobs, the academy provides more value to the soldier by teaching and enhancing skills that benefit them in and out of uniform.

Commenting on the academy, MG George Bowman, 311th Theater Signal Command’s commander, noted, “I just don’t see a downside. This has been like a dream that has come to fruition.” Welcoming the first students in the new facility, he added, “This training will help you become better soldiers, more technically and tactically capable, and make you better in your private careers, better equipped to handle the networks that are out there.”

To the new students, Bowman issued the challenge to “think through the interfaces, to think through the bottlenecks in our networks as we put them together, so that we can provide secure networks for our customers, so that we can protect our networks from intrusion. Just as we protect our soldiers from harm, and we protect our facilities from outside intruders, we must protect our networks.”

1LT Herron is a network-systems engineer with 311th Theater Signal Command. He also serves as the command’s public-affairs officer.

COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Army Signal Center

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group