Monday, November 11, 2013

What Goes Up Must Come Down

In honor of Veterans Day I thought I would share a war story.

I used to be an officer in the Army National Guard. My branch was Engineers but when my battalion deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom II from February 20th, 2004 through February 20th, 2005 I was in a Communications Officer position which in active duty battalions would be filled with a Signal Corp officer. Luckily the Communications Officer job was mainly involved in computer networks and I had finished my Master of Science degree in Information Systems in December of 2002 and was employed full time in the IT department of my current employer so I was up for the job.

One of my duties was running an “internet café” for the troops on our base. This consisted of a large air conditioned tent with 20 laptop computers and eight VoIP phones and it had its own VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) satellite internet system. I had received training on how to tear this whole system down, load it on a truck then reassemble it at a new base and point it at the satellite. My section and I had done this a couple times and were pretty good at getting a strong signal with the satellite as well as knowing how to trouble shoot most issues that we ran into. One bright sunny day, like most days in the desert, one of my section sergeants came to the battalion headquarters to get me. The internet café was completely down.

When I got to the tent we ran through our checklist, reboot the laptops, phones and routers; HyperTerminal into the modem and check the signal strength. Everything checked out. There was only one more thing to do; go get one of the few Thuraya satellite phones and call the NOC back in the USA. I had called the NOC before when I had to get a new configuration file for the modem when we relocated the system, or when a VoIP phone needed a new configuration file pushed out to it but this was the first time the whole system was down. They were right on the problem and had the cause right away “your down link in Amsterdam has lost its connection to the satellite because of a severe rainstorm.” I was incredulous, I asked them to confirm that I had to tell the hundred waiting soldiers and marines that they couldn’t email or phone home today because it was raining in Amsterdam. They confirmed that “yes, until the rainstorm passes” our internet café in the sunny desert would be closed.

Passing on that bit of information was one of the harder things I had to do during my time in Iraq.

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