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Stood up in March 2020, the Fusion Cell was a purpose-driven group, with an operational perspective, focused on understanding and overcoming the demands of the dynamic COVID-19 environment. The group developed a virtual data repository to acquire, fuse, interpret and distribute information to track NAVWAR personnel, resources, programs and efforts impacted by COVID-19 for sustained fleet readiness worldwide.
“Our goal was straightforward – be experts on global pandemic response, advocate for the NAVWAR mission and protect the well-being of the workforce,” said Cdr. Ryan Srogi, COVID-19 Fusion Cell director. “Over the past 13 months a team of NAVWAR Reservists created multiple situational awareness products providing information on technician depth and availability, production levels, local and waterfront COVID-19 threat levels and more.”
Now, as the pandemic seems to be waning, FRD is taking advantage of the lessons learned during that frenetic early period on how to deal with such a chaotic crisis, and adjust operational capacity and capability to meet fleet needs no matter the obstacle.
At the start of COVID-19, the command faced a multitude of challenges including travel restrictions, safety requirements and health standards put in place to stop the spread of the virus. Although necessary, these restrictions dramatically changed NAVWAR’s way of doing business, initially limiting how the command was able to deliver in person modernization and sustainment efforts to Navy platforms located worldwide.
For highly specialized technicians within FRD, traveling to duty locations meant tackling complicated and often intricate requirements in order to support the fleet, both near and abroad. Pre-COVID, these technicians, known as in-service engineering agents (ISEA), would travel without restriction or delay, supporting ship and shore installations around the globe. COVID-19 travel limitations drastically altered this unobstructed freedom of movement. The pandemic, much like any contested environment, made it difficult to rapidly respond to on site demands, emphasizing the need for distance support with a remote access capability.
“Remote access helped us streamline support to the fleet by allowing ISEA’s to further troubleshoot and resolve open casualty reports and trouble tickets by utilizing secure remote access capabilities, thus saving time and travel when able,” said Lcdr. Jerry Almonte, the Fusion Cell’s deputy director and remote access lead.
Leveraging remote tools, like Microsoft’s Teams - Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) environment, the Fusion Cell reduced technician response time and enhanced coordination to meet emergent warfighting needs. The Department of Defense (DoD) rollout of CVR not only transformed the way NAVWAR works, it has also demonstrated that modern, commercial best practices can work for the Navy and Marine Corps. As the DoD transitions away from CVR in June 2021, the implementation of Operation Flank Speed will carry these capabilities forward into the future.
According to the Department of Navy Chief Information Officer, Operation Flank Speed will permanently shift enterprise collaboration and productivity services to an enduring cloud-based Microsoft 365 solution. It will allow users to continue to work from personal devices, replace H: drives with 100x as much space on OneDrive, eliminate the need to archive emails, and integrate with Microsoft Office 365 capability online – all with greatly enhanced information security and cyber defenses.
“The Fusion Cell delivered on-site, traditional central office capability, adopting a battle rhythm, and fostering a practice of open and clear communication,” said Srogi. “Without remote access and the telework framework, costs would have increased and responsiveness would have slowed dramatically.”
In addition to travel restrictions, the Navy was also facing a growing number of active-duty service members being pulled away from their primary task of modernization and sustainment efforts to support the COVID-19 relief effort. To address this challenge, FRD tapped into the expertise of the NAVWAR Reserve Program (NWRP), providing remote reserve support to relieve active-duty service members from pandemic response efforts.
NWRP reservists were able to quickly integrate with NAVWAR active-duty staff and coordinate with numerous fleet commands, nationally and internationally. The support was both timely and critical as it allowed the active-duty members to return to their primary role within the Navy.
The efforts to “operationalize” FRD through telework further proved the utility of collaborative software like CVR Teams and the effectiveness of the Reserve component to mobilize in direct support of their active duty command. Moving forward, the NWRP is formalizing Fusion Cell processes and procedures that can serve as a contingency response group for future crisis.
The goal is to provide a fast, ready and tested response capability for NAVWAR, aligned with the Chief of Navy Reserve’s design, train and mobilize model. This maximizes the opportunity the pandemic presented to prepare for future demands and to ensure fleet readiness for decades to come.
NAVWAR identifies, develops, delivers and sustains information warfighting capabilities and services that enable naval, joint, coalition and other national missions operating in warfighting domains from seabed to space and through cyberspace. NAVWAR consists of more than 11,000 civilian, active duty and reserve professionals located around the world.
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