CAMP RYAN, Kuwait -- Every day computer technology evolves, and as the Marine Corps learns to harness and use these emerging technologies, they provide unique opportunities to retain the upper hand over the enemy.
For one reserve of Marine of Task Force Tarawa, the mission of creating and maintaining data networks has been key to the success of forward-deployed Marines operating in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Dennis "Scott" Hopkins, data chief, Task Force Tarawa, is responsible for designing and preserving the architecture of all Task Force Tarawa's classified and unclassified data networks.
"I help coordinate and plan the tactical data networks with the data network officers," said Hopkins. "The networks allow our forward units to keep open communication with the rear command elements."
In past conflicts, the field radio has been the Corps' primary source of communication. But, the field radio had a limited reach. One message sometimes had to be relayed through several field operators before reaching its' intended recipient, according to Hopkins.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Internet tools have opened new doors of communication.
"Being able to use the Internet, secure chat rooms and secure e-mail really helps shape the 'virtual battlefield,'" said Hopkins. "It keeps everyone communicating together in real time."
Along with the secure networks, Hopkins is also responsible for keeping the unclassified networks up and running. The unclassified networks help Marines complete day-to-day missions that involve information gathering.
"The unclassified side helps Marines get their jobs done," according to Hopkins. "For example, our Intelligence Marines gather information from unclassified sources that might help commanders in the field."
Unclassified networks also give deployed Marines the opportunity to send e-mails to and receive e-mails from loved ones at home. With mail taking an average of three weeks to reach deployed Marines, any form of communication that lessens the chasm of separation is welcomed.
"Having access to e-mail helps keep morale high," said Hopkins. "It allows instantaneous updates to families."
Hopkins, who drills with II Marine Expeditionary Force Augmentation Command Element at Camp Lejeune, N.C., has over 13 years of on-the-job training in communications and data networks. He holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science from Park University, and as a civilian, works on developing data networks for the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.
"The best part of being a Marine is I can build on the skills I use in my civilian occupation, and I can support my country and my community by making an impact on a larger world society," said Hopkins.