DAHLGREN, Va. –
Computer scientists are known to face a unique set of occupational hazards, such as eye fatigue and wrist strains, but seasickness does not rank highly on the list of possible IT-related maladies. Throughout much of 2021, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Scientist Bradley Eidschun fell into this select club.
“This was my first time underway – I had never been out on a ship before. It was fun to find out I had a pair of sea legs,” Eidschun laughed during a recent conversation, held shoreside.
Eidschun spent about six months aboard the USS Monterey (CG 61) – a 567-foot Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser bearing the motto “rough in battle and ready in peace.” As a network and system engineer for the virtualization pilot ship (VPS) program, Eidschun was tasked with operating, updating and maintaining the vessel’s VPS equipment for its Sailors.
“So far, this is at the top of what I’ve done in my career,” Eidschun speculated. “It’s great to see the equipment that we build and the programs that we work on put into use. It helps us prioritize what the Sailors might need in the future.”
Monterey is the pilot ship in an effort to implement virtualization of the Aegis Combat System. When complete, a virtualized Aegis will have capability to receive software upgrades – even while at sea – without temporarily disrupting the ship’s combat system.
NSWCDD’s Integrated Combat Systems Department leads the VPS effort. When Eidschun joined the VPS team last year and heard there was an opportunity to provide direct engineering support aboard Monterey, he jumped at the chance.
As an expert on the VPS system, Eidschun went aboard Monterey for most of its six-month deployment. Eidschun spent his days maintaining and operating the equipment for the Sailors and fixing issues as they arose.
Out at sea, Eidschun was in a rare position to receive real-time feedback on the system he helped to develop and integrate. Working closely with the crew, Eidschun noted what the Sailors found intuitive and what needed improvement. A virtualized system lives on a computer rack and uses software to emulate traditionally hardware-bound processes. And by the nature of the virtualized system, Eidschun and his team back at NSWCDD were able to deliver real-time updates to meet the Sailors’ requirements.
“The Combat Systems Officer at the time wanted to have a piece of functionality added in that it did not have at that time,” Eidschun recalled. “So I sent that information and those requirements back to Dahlgren and within a week they sent across an update for the program. We were able to update the system with what they needed in real time while deployed.” Typically, Eidschun said, program updates can take months or even years to complete on non-virtual machines.
Day to day, Eidschun shuffled through the ships’ corridors between combat and computer areas to ensure the system was running smoothly and resolve issues as they arose. When he was not busy fixing or updating the equipment, Eidschun made the most of his six-month stint. He volunteered his time around the ship whenever he could – from freshwater wash-downs and cleaning to all-hands working parties – Eidschun readily lent a helping hand. Although not technically a Sailor, Eidschun’s eagerness to contribute earned him the Sailor of the Week Award in April 2021. According to Eidschun, the award is usually given to a junior enlisted Sailor aboard the ship that has distinguished themselves through hard work and effort.
Eidschun is not the only computer scientist from NSWCDD to go underway with Monterey. Ryan Harris, who also works in the Integrated Combat Systems Department, provided direct support to the Navy cruiser four times and spent about a week underway.
“Working alongside the Monterey crew is arguably the most rewarding that software work could ever be,” Harris said. “The whole experience of taking software that is objectively better for the Sailor, putting it on the ship and in their hands is an incredibly humbling experience.”