Membership in the Army’s Internet portal surged dramatically in the months
leading to the war in Iraq and access requests to its classified-only network
tripled during the conflict.
Field commanders in Iraq restricted troops from logging on to non-military
Internet services. That made Army Knowledge Online the only game in town, noted
Maj. C.J. Wallington, who manages AKO operations for the Army.
In the absence of Yahoo, MSN or AOL instant messaging, “it was AKO IM
or nothing,” said Wallington.
“From an OPSEC [operational security] standpoint, we were a big success,”
he said. Membership in the classified-only network, called AKO-S, almost tripled
in the last six months, largely due to requirements associated with Operation
Iraqi Freedom, Wallington said.
AKO-S stands for SIPRNET (secret internet protocol router network). Last October,
AKO-S had 11,445 subscribers. By early May, it had 35,560.
The system has 128-bit encryption. “It’s the best in the industry,”
Altogether, AKO services more than 1.3 million users, including about 98 percent
of the active-duty Army, and 68 percent of the Reserve and National Guard.
Many members are Army civilian employees. Family members also are entitled
to AKO accounts. It is viewed as a benefit of serving in the Army.
In operation for more than two years, AKO is run out of Fort Belvoir, Va. The
network is hosted on 300 Unix servers and has 70 terabytes of raw storage space.
The help desk receives 11,000 calls a week.
Reservists often use AKO as a mobilization planning tool, said Wallington.
“The AKO knowledge collaboration center saw a lot of use by the Guard/Reserve
to help them mobilize.”
A KCC is a “secure place where units can share information,” he
said. “The Reserves are using this a lot. ... They can put together alert
rosters, drill schedules, tentative moving plans.”
Guard and Reserve units, he said, “see the value of AKO as a means of
reach-back to the families back home, and as a mechanism to push information
to family resource groups in a secure, controlled environment.”
It costs the Army $17 million a year to run AKO. A member’s account is
terminated when he or she leaves the Army. Twenty-year veterans are eligible
for retiree accounts.