What is the USO?

Air Force by on December 1, 2006 at 1:03 pm

I’m at USO in the Seattle airport, waiting to catch a flight to Indianapolis. Most people I know don’t know what the USO is (I certainly didn’t), so here’s a quick post for those interested.

  • A non-profit organization largely staffed by volunteers that provides services to traveling military and their families
  • Morale Tours: The USO is most famously known for the entertainment tours that they run for troops in theater. Musicians, Comedians, Cheerleaders, etc. At deployed bases, there are few events anticipated more than the USO shows
  • Airport Lounges: The closest civilian equivalent are the lounges offered by most airlines to their premium travelers (but more military and family oriented). The Seatac USO has:
    • Wireless Internet, a computer terminal, XBox, TV, etc.
    • Free drinks and snacks: Sandwiches, milk and cereal, coffee, donuts, CupONoodles, etc.
    • Rack room (8 or so cots)
    • Couches, tables, a Christmas tree, etc. All sorts of reading materials, etc.
    • A nursery complete with games, toys and cribs
    • Volunteers that staff the USOs also
  • 132 locations, most of them in major airports (unfortunately always outside security).

The quality of USOs varies greatly. At SJC it is a trailer outside of the terminal, while at BWI the USO is new and in top condition. I remember bringing Halo 2 there the day it came out and playing with an assortment of wide-eyed young recruits on the 50″ TV there. Although the facilities are frequently dingy, they are comfortable and staffed by always-warm volunteers.

The USO has a great history (around since World War 2). Their tagline, “Until Every One Comes Home” just warms the heart. Learn more about the USO on their website.

The Absurdity of Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)

Air Force by on November 9, 2006 at 6:06 pm

If you’ve ever had nightmares about the waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars, and wanted to dance with the devil, take a spin through the Federal Acquisition Regulations. The index is 140 pages.

From what I’ve witnessed in the government, the FAR resulted from heavy lobbying by influential contractors, not penny-pinching accountants. My favorite absurd regulation:

  • The government cannot allow a contractor’s prior performance impact the awarding of a new contract.

If Contractor “Chenfeld” absolutely botches an important contract, the government cannot use that information to impact the awarding of a new contract. I’m sure there are some limitations to this (like if they broke the law), but I’m also sure that they rarely come up.

Some of the groups I work with use contractors extensively. People with security clearances are very hard to find, and once the government has cleared an employee, the employee commonly flees to private industry where they can double their salary as a contractor. Oh, and they often return to do the same job. But I digress… The contracting firms distribute ‘sample resumes’ when they seek to win a contract for personnel (ex. 20 java engineers). Of course, once they win the contract, the seemingly talented resumes are replaced with far more junior personnel. The actual contractors ‘delivered’ are frequently incompetent and actually detract from the work.

And, you have to hire the contractor again next time, knowing full well that they are going to do the same exact thing.

Air Force launches new cyberspace command

Air Force,Security by on November 2, 2006 at 12:03 pm

Although this action has been expected for some time, this is the first time that cyberspace has been raised to command-level visibility in the military (and in the US government for that matter). Richard Bejtlich has good coverage of the evolution of the new command, and a good take on why it makes sense to centralize this skillset within one of the services.

Our nation’s warfighting capabilities are incredibly dependent on networks, and despite all sorts of training with alternatives, there is not doubt that those capabilities would be degraded significantly without them. The creation of this command is an indication that the government is finally beginning to acknowledge that we are woefully unprepared for asymmetric warfare on the net.

One of the more interesting debates within national security circles revolves around the legal definition of many cyberspace activities. Is hacking considered an offensive activity? How about viruses and worms? How about DOS of an attacking machine? When are offensive activities interpreted as acts of war? Under what legal authority can the US take ‘offensive’ actions? Important doctrine involving things like “Rules of Engagement” are just beginning to be developed. This will be a fun arena to watch.

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