Millions of service members rely on the Defense Information Systems Agency for secure communications from bases in the United States to Afghanistan and beyond. Shouldering this responsibility is the DISA Mission Partner Engagement Office, an entity inside the agency that provides customers the necessary technology to achieve their individual missions.

DISA’s work touches customers in 42 countries across 28 agencies, totaling around 2 million active service members and reservists, said Maj. Gen. Garrett Yee, the agency’s assistant to the director. Its network processes about 300 terabytes of data daily and every month it takes about one billion defensive cyber operations.

But before agency leaders created the engagement office in 2015, “we didn’t have one specific organization that was strategically aligned to that primary focus,” said Ted Lewis, the organization’s acting chief.

Since then, the office has collaborated on a series of significant projects. Here are three areas that show how the office is using IT solutions to solve servicemembers’ problems today.

Defense Enterprise Email

One of DISA’s most notable successes in recent years has been the transition to Defense Enterprise Email (DEE). Prior to the program, each installation ran its own email. That meant every time a serviceman got reassigned to a new base, they had to get a new email. Yee said that system was inefficient and made it difficult to track where people were stationed.

“This solution DISA implemented to eliminate the need for partners to procure manage and maintain their own email solutions by providing them a solution,” said Marie Sakowicz, outreach support branch chief at DISA.

“It changed the way the Army was able to operate and save money,” Yee told C4ISRNET in an exclusive interview. “Because now, instead of operating literally a hundred separate email servers, you’re just getting it as a service from DISA.”

Perhaps most importantly, the move saved the Army $600 million, Sakowicz said. Today, 1.8 million employees use the service and the DISA network moves over 38 million email messages every day, Yee said.

Securing mobile phones

DISA’s program office has also helped ensure service leaders have unclassified and classified mobile phones for secure communications no matter where they are.

The engagement office has a list of customers that includes the military services, the combatant commands, fourth estate agencies such as the Defense Logistics Agency, the Coast Guard and State Department. Now, DISA’s engagement office is also offering its mobility services and secure network architecture to other civilian agencies for their communications, specifically the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, said Joe Brinker, DISA branch chief.

“The need to be able to communicate securely is not exclusive to the Department of Defense so we are offering those capabilities with mission partners in the federal space as well,” Brinker said.

DISA recently embarked on a pilot program to provide a platform to allow senior leaders to collaborate on projects “wherever they are,” said Susan Eaton, DISA’s outreach branch chief said. She said that DISA has been hearing about the need for such a platform from service members for several years.

“An admiral told me that he wants to be able to work in his office, pick up his computing device – whatever that device is, it doesn’t matter – and be able to communicate and collaborate wherever they are,” Eaton said. “So the pilot that DISA is working on will help bring that into our overall mobility capability set.”

DISA’s engagement office, Eaton said, is going to take the lead on “shaping” that capability going forward.

“That’s huge for anyone that has the need to talk in a secure way, but not be tied to an office environment,” he said.

DISA supports about 145,000 mobile devices, such as cell phones or tablets, each month, Yee said.

Move to the cloud

For years, some military officials have expressed concerns about moving their data to the commercial cloud. But through DISA’s MilCloud offering, more military organizations are taking advantage of cloud technology and hoping to save money.

Eaton said DISA is helping Army Materiel Command migrate over 100 applications to the MilCloud.

“They don’t have to stand up their own cloud capability and we’ll be able to help them leverage an affordable solution,” Eaton said.

With partners throughout the world, DISA also has field offices around the globe to stay up to date.

“These teams are strategically positioned with the combatant commands to assist with DISA services, capabilities, and operations,” Lewis said. “They give the [combatant commands] one place to go for information or to address any issues. The MPEO partners closely with these teams which provide local subject matter expertise or a conduit to reach subject matter experts at DISA headquarters. The MPEO also has liaisons performing a similar function for the military services and some of the DoD agencies.”

Yee, who is months into his job at DISA, is in a unique position after having been a DISA customer for years during his career. His first opportunity to worth DISA came in 2011 during his time in Afghanistan and he relied heavily on DISA to connect to home stations back in the continental United States.

Yee said that this allows him to bring in the perspective of the customer in DISA’s operations and helps him improve DISA’s interactions with the services.

“I have the relationships from [being] a customer to be able to reach back to the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines to say ‘hey, here’s how we can potentially help you do better at what you’re doing,” Yee said.

In order to fulfill its mission, Yee noted that DISA relies on a relationship with industry.

“Much of what we do relies heavily on our commercial partners and we can’t underscore the importance of that partnership enough,” Yee said.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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