The US Forward Command is a half hour due east of Kuwait City, approximately 75 miles from the Iraqi border. I've flown here from Qatar to learn more about the 11th Signal Brigade, the soldiers tasked with wiring the battlefield. They tote M16s, but their job is to jump out of helicopters and set up packet-based wireless networks. [...]
Their laptops display icons representing a web of nodes and switches. When the icons are green, everything is running fine. But when a link turns red, panic sets in. "A link went red yesterday," says Sergeant Danny Booher, one of the controllers. "One of my guys came under mortar fire near Basra and the satellite got hit." Booher got on the phone with his nearest unit, and, minutes later, there was a humvee racing through the desert, towing a satellite dish on wheels. [...]
"What's funny about using Microsoft Chat," he adds with a sly smile, "is that everybody has to choosean icon to represent themselves. Some of these guys haven't bothered, so the program assigns them one. We'll be in the middle of a battle and a bunch of field artillery colonels will come online in the form of these big-breasted blondes. We've got a few space aliens, too." [..]
His 8-foot bank of Cisco switches and routers is hot to the touch and covered in a thick layer of sediment. "The air-conditioning is breaking down," he tells me. "And the dust is impossible." [...] "When a dust storm comes through here, the tent is totally useless. I wouldn't be able to see you, that's how bad it is." I'm standing two feet from him. "We'll have people vacuuming the switches and servers around the clock, which helps," he says. "But none of it's going to matter if it gets hot."
"You're in the desert," I say. "It's going to get hot."
It's no Spiders, but it's pretty close...
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