CAMP UDAIRI, Kuwait — Sgt. Brian Davis’ wife is lying in a hospital bed at Germany’s Landstuhl Army Medical Center, confined there because of a difficult pregnancy.

Davis, 35, of the 11th Aviation Regiment’s headquarters company, would like to call her while he’s in Kuwait, but the Army telephone system makes it tough.

“She’s got a DSN number, and I can’t even get through — maybe one out of 10 times,” Davis said. “Then I can hear her, but she can’t hear me.”

Nearly every soldier in Kuwait has suffered the head-beating frustration of waiting in long lines to call home, then finding the phone just can’t get through.

V Corps leaders, who had hoped to allow every soldier a 15-minute call once a week, have steadily cut access as the system gets increasingly overwhelmed.

“On the battlefield, it works great,” said 1st Lt. Jeremy Vigna, 25, Signal Corps communications officer for the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment from Illesheim, Germany.

“Now we’re using it for every Joe to call his wife and kids back home. We need help.”

It’s not only morale calls to the home front that have been hampered by the crush. The Department of Defense’s classified computer system, which uses the same phone lines, is down for hours on end, and even cross-base or base-to-base calls are difficult.

The system is called Mobile Subscriber Equipment, a French-made network purchased from General Electric in the mid-1980s, Vigna said.

It is 1970s-era technology, upgraded in recent years to give it both secure and nonsecure Internet capability.

The Army designed the network so corps-level commanders could communicate easily with battalions and brigades on the battlefield.

“The intent is for the commander to have voice connectivity down to the brigade level,” said Capt. Suzanne Self, 33, 11th Aviation’s regimental signal officer. “Whenever the situation allows and they’re able to, they try to make it available for people to call their families.”

For outside calls, the entire system in Kuwait is routed through a handful of switches at Camp Doha, where they are connected to the military-wide Defense Signal Network. DSN operators then dial outside numbers for soldiers.

Self said those switches handle as many as 10,000 calls each in four hours, but there just aren’t enough switches.

To complicate things further, the desert environment is murder on electronics, signal officers say. Heat, sand and static electricity all harm the network’s performance.

“To get through to a DSN number in the States is about a one-in-forty chance,” said Spc. Jason Conrad, 22, a 5-158 Aviation soldier who has been trying to reach his parents in Tomball, Texas. “It’s so unreliable.”

“I haven’t talked to my wife in two, almost three weeks,” said Spc. Juan Quintana, 26, of the 2nd Squadron’s headquarters company. “In the daytime, you really can’t call. But in the night, you can’t get through [either], because everyone’s trying to call.”

To ease the congestion, 11th Aviation has recommended its units restrict calls to the hours from 1 to 6 a.m. Some soldiers get up at night and dial for an hour without getting through.

“Then you give up,” said Sgt. Timothy Weber, 30, a 5-158 Aviation soldier from Lacey, Wash. “I just write letters.”

At all the other major camps in Kuwait, AT&T has set up a telephone tent where soldiers can make credit-card calls to their loved ones. The queues are long and the calls expensive, but the lines work without fail.

The company had planned to install a similar tent at Camp Udairi by Feb. 15, Vigna said, but a Kuwaiti contractor failed to build a necessary relay system. He doesn’t know when that will happen.

As the command gears up for war, V Corps’ signal troops have begun putting electronic limits on the system that block calls to or from certain phones or classes of phones. Morale, Welfare and Recreation phones have been restricted to one per battalion.

Commanders want to make sure the system is clear for the command calls it was originally designed to carry.

The trouble is, Self said, that not everyone has gotten word of the limits. So people continue to try making calls. Each call attempt further clogs the system.

Vigna said in this age of fiber optics, there are many advanced phone systems the Army could purchase off the shelf. But they also must be easy to operate, available in large quantities for Army-wide use, and secure.

“All these wireless networks are great,” he said, “but we have to make sure information doesn’t get compromised.”

For all the frustration, Persian Gulf War veterans such as Davis say the phone situation is far better than the last time hundreds of thousands of U.S. forces gathered in Kuwait.

Then there was only one phone center, at Camp Doha. Most soldiers then got only one or two chances to call in a six-month deployment.

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