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Reserve Components on Guard for Y2K

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 19, 1999 – Much has been said and much has been done in recent years to integrate the reserve components into the total force. And the latest challenge -- known as Y2K -- has been no exception.

"It's been a total force effort," said Jennifer Buck, DoD's reserve affairs expert on Y2K. "The Y2K challenge for the reserve components is the same as it's been for the active force. It's been a process of reviewing the status of weapon systems and data systems to ensure that when the year rolls over to 2000, they'll still be operable."

The Year 2000 problem, nicknamed "Y2K," refers to the past computer industry practice of writing years with just two digits -- 1999 would be "99." Because of this digital shorthand, some computer systems on Jan. 1, 2000, might treat "00" as "1900" or just shut down all together. Almost any computer system may be vulnerable and needs to be checked and then, if necessary, fixed to handle the year change or replaced. Microchips are also vulnerable and need to be tested or replaced. A computer system that recognizes the year 2000 date and processes data correctly is called "compliant."

Buck, deputy assistant secretary of defense for resources in reserve affairs, said that from the very beginning of DoD's efforts to squash the millennium bug, "the reserve components have been full players in all of the (Y2K) efforts the active force have worked on."

Today's reserve component force numbers approximately 1.5 million service members spread out across the nation's 54 states and territories.

She said the total force approach to Y2K has been important for several reasons. First, the active and reserve component forces use the same weapons and communications systems.

Second, many of the information processing systems used by reserve component units are tied into systems managed by their active counterparts. The failure of one part of the system could corrupt or shut down other parts.

And last, increased reliance on reserve forces means it is essential mobilization systems are not affected by Y2K.

Buck characterized the overall reserve component Y2K effort as proceeding well and on schedule.

"Most of the mission critical systems are already Y2K- compliant," she said. "We're at about 82 percent. There are five systems that we're still working on, and they're all on track to be Y2K-compliant before the beginning of the new year."

The systems still being repaired involve retirement point accounting and the Army National Guard's Standard Installation Division Personnel System, known as SIDPERS. All systems will go through what's called "end-to-end testing" to ensure that all reserve component information technology systems function by themselves as well as with the systems with which they interact.

She added that evaluations of the overall reserve component infrastructure, such as building security alarms and heating and cooling systems, have not turned up any unexpected Y2K problems.

"At this point we're mostly monitoring everyone's progress very carefully to make sure schedules are not slipping," Buck said. "But every place I've gone to the reserve component commands have people who are working with their points of contact throughout the field to determine their status on Y2K issues, particularly pertaining to installation-type issues."

Buck is also confident Y2K won't hinder the reserve component mobilization system. Citing a Joint Chiefs of Staff exercise conducted earlier this year, Buck said the exercise assumed automated systems were not available, and that contingency plans worked successfully.

Additionally, the National Guard Bureau will conduct a nationwide communications exercise this summer. The exercise will test the Guard's high-frequency backup communications system. Such a system would be needed if others fail because of Y2K.

Beyond these steps, Buck pointed out that reserve component forces, particularly the National Guard, have extensive experience with mobilizing during periods when communications are difficult, such as during major snowstorms and hurricanes.

"We're confident that in the event of problems due to Y2K, the Guard and Reserve still could be mobilized," Buck said. "It would not necessarily be as speedy as it would be if all other systems were fully operational. But people have been working very hard to develop contingency plans that would make it happen."

She advises reserve component service members who have concerns about Y2K issues to raise them through their chain of command or look for information on command Web sites. Most have sections addressing Y2K issues.

Buck also said this "is a good time for everyone to do the housekeeping they should do on a regular basis to ensure they have their personal records in order." While confident that personnel systems will function, she said maintaining copies of records "is something we should all pay attention to regardless of whether there's a Y2K event."

Y2K managers don't routinely talk in glowing terms when reflecting on the issues raised by the computer bug, but Buck is an exception. She said the total force focus on Y2K has been encouraging.

"The reserve components have put a lot of energy into ensuring the highest degree of success possible for Y2K," Buck said. "And the reserve components have been full partners with the active force throughout. They have received just as much attention for their systems as the active. It's been a positive experience."

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