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Former area resident helps improve military's networking challenges

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Air Force Maj. Marianne Lumsden, a former Southeast Missouri resident, sits behind her desk at her office in Quantico, Va. Lumsden helped design computer software that allows U.S. forces in the field to better communicate.
By Leonna Heuring


SIKESTON -- Marianne Lumsden always knew she wanted to work in communications, but little did the former Southeast Missouri resident know, one day she'd be involved in helping speed up military communication in a war zone.

In February 2006 at Quantico, Va., Marine Base, Lumsden and 27 others, began a three-year joint initiative to develop a standardized communications system for all four military branches.

"We (in the military) like rules and regulations and guidelines, and that's what this system provides," said Lumsden, a major in the Air Force, who helped write the standard procedure for the system.

Lumsden has served tours of duty in Kosovo in 1999, in Bahrain in 2003 and in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 so she knows firsthand the communication difficulties often faced by troops.

"In Iraq, where we had troops on two sides of a river, you couldn't see visually which were friendly or enemy. You can see movement, but you can't see which ones are friendly or enemy," Lumsden said. "We would try to communicate by e-mail, and it could take hours or a day. By then, the troops have moved. We need immediate communication."

Because the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have historically been set up on different computers, routers and networks, it can often delay communication. That's why the Joint Mobile Network Operations project was developed -- to create a universal system for all branches to use in the field and improve communication, Lumsden said.

With less than a year to complete the project, feedback from troops of the various military branches who are testing the system in the field has been positive, Lumsden said.

"We're also testing (the system) throughout the States. We want to make sure they can read the procedures, and it is clear to them because we want a really good system," the lead information technologist said.

Besides being used in a war zone, the standardized communications system can be used by the Department of Defense at every level, Lumsden said.

Lumsden, who attended grade school in Chaffee and high school in Broseley, admitted working in communications for the military was never on her agenda.

"When I was in high school, I took a bookkeeping course, and I always wanted to work in computers. That was my goal. I was going to be a computer person for IBM," Lumsden said.

But at the suggestion of her father, John Lumsden of Poplar Bluff, Lumsden checked into the Reserve Officers'Training Corps.

"My father served in the Air Force during the Korean War. That's what inspired me," Lumsden said about how she got her start in the military.

She recalled being with her father at freshman orientation at Southeast Missouri State University in the 1980s.

"I was in some other meeting, and Dad comes in with an ROTC representative and said, 'There's no commitment' and 'just take the classes.' I went ahead and signed up for the course. They offered a great scholarship, and I thought, 'I can do this for a few years," Lumsden said.

Lumsden received her commission in the Air Force in 1989. Her undergraduate degree is in computer programming; she earned a master's degree from the University of Southern California in 1997.

Most of Lumsden's assignments over the years have been purchasing major computer systems for the government and leading communication duties, such as writing computer programs, she said.

Rosemary Lumsden of Sikeston said her daughter is doing what she wants to do.

"She's always been dedicated to pursuing what her goals were. I'm learning from her and honored to be her mother," she said.

Due to retire in April 2010, Lumsden said she hopes to find a Department of Defense civilian job, working in communications or information technology acquisition.

But for now, Lumsden, who lives in Fredericksburg, Va., said she's happy knowing she's had a hand in improving communication for all military personnel.

She said: "It does feel good."