Army leaders overseeing the force's sweeping move to a new email service are saying that all soldiers will have access to email, in some form, when it switches to its "Army 365" platform, tentatively set for March, amid some confusion across the force over who will have email access and when the old system is turned off.
The Army is ditching the current Defense Enterprise Email System and moving to a Microsoft Office 365-based service that, in addition to email, would provide some soldiers with access to Teams and SharePoint, among other software services. The force also will move to the new Army.mil email domain, which many soldiers already have.
"This is one of many leaps that the Army is making with modernization," Col. Joseph Gardner, the senior officer overseeing the service's email migration, told Military.com. "The Army remains committed to ensuring that all soldiers, civilians and contractors, as necessary, have access to the tools for collaboration and communication they need for their daily duties."
The Army purchased roughly 200,000 fewer 365 licenses than there are civilians who work for the force and soldiers across active duty, the Reserve and National Guard. Not buying the full roster of Microsoft 365 tools for the entire Army can save the branch $150 million next year, and leaders pointed out that not all soldiers, such as junior combat arms troops in the National Guard, need all of Microsoft's services.
But that purchase of licenses for less than the full force has led to broad confusion about whether some soldiers would not have access to email, a fear that has played out on social media.
Sgt. Maj. Richard Knott, the senior enlisted adviser on the platform's rollout, told Military.com that "everyone will have a government-provided email account" but that the Army is trying to "be good stewards of taxpayer money."
For now, commanders are in charge of deciding who needs all of Microsoft's services. Leaders in charge of the rollout urged that all soldiers will have access to the tools that they reasonably need.
When asked by Military.com on what would stop commanders from making blanket demands for the full suite of services, Gardner said that request is approved or disapproved by the first colonel in the chain of command.
The move also introduces more stringent Defense Department-mandated security measures, one of which doesn't allow soldiers to download email attachments, even if they do not hold any sensitive materials, when on civilian networks. This could make it impossible for some tasks to be completed at home, a hurdle even greater for part-time forces in the Reserve and Guard, who often have limited access to government computers and networks.
"It goes back to the DoD's mandate on what we're allowed to download from a security perspective; being able to download documents to your personal device is restricted," Gardner said. "So we're in line with that guidance. But what is in place is other methods to share like MilSuite and DoD SAFE."
MilSuite and DoD SAFE are tools for troops and Defense Department personnel to share digital files. But both are locked behind a Common Access Card wall, meaning ID cards are needed to be inserted into computers to access those websites, which is often a barrier for troops working from home.
Ahead of the March deadline, all soldiers and Army civilian employees need to migrate to the new Army.mil email address. However, Gardner noted that all units should have received instructions to mass-migrate their soldiers automatically, which is done through a request with the Army's Network Enterprise Technology Command.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.