March 3, 2003
American troops are well wired these days. Personal computers have transformed how the majority of army and marine troops operate in the field. The first PCs were quietly taken into the field over two decades ago. But cheaper and more capable laptops and lighter desktops (especially flat screens for desktops), have made PCs commonplace even in combat units.
The only bad thing about the flat screens is that they don't throw off as much heat, so the command tents are not as warm in winter, or there is not as much air conditioning (to keep the PCs from overheating) in Summer. It was long thought that PCs could not withstand the dust, dirt and moisture so abundant in field situations. This has always been a problem, and more expensive "ruggedized" PCs were not the answer. The troops learned to adapt, especially since many of them depended on their PCs, particularly the personal laptops many troops brought with them. One became adept at keeping the crud from shutting down the computers. Troops also depended on the PCs for recreational use. Computer games have always been a popular way to kill time when off duty. In the last few years, many laptops have come with DVD players installed, and this has led to DVD movies being very popular when out in the field. Hook up some larger speakers to the laptop and a dozen troops could crowd around a laptop and watch a movie.
Over the last decade, field PCs have increasingly had Internet access, although the troops were warned that this was a scarce commodity, as it came through a limited satellite dish feed. But this allowed units with Internet access to provide email service for the local troops. This proved to be a big boost for morale, and special "Internet tents" were set up so that as many men and women as possible could communicate with the folks back home. Email is also used to stay in touch others in uniform, as there has developed large Internet based communities of like minded service people. This networking has made the troops more effective, as they can get advice and exchange information with people in the same job category.
The troops have gotten quite adept at setting up their networks when the trucks come to a halt and a new camp is set up. The PCs are set up, many of them networked and connected to the Internet (including the Department of Defense private networks based on Internet technology) within hours. The automation and "information superiority" this creates has become yet another advantage for those armed forces that can afford it. And every year, many more find that they can. But no force is as wired as the Americans.