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MODERN WARRIORS MARCH TO HIGH-TECH BEAT

Modular systems. Wide-band connectivity. Requirements analysis.

Things military sure have changed since the days of not firing until you see the whites of their eyes."I think if Gen. (George) Patton could see what we're trying to do here he would probably roll over in his grave," said Army Lt. Gen. Otto Guenther. "It's a whole new culture we're about to embark on."

The setting for Guenther's comment was the seventh annual Software Technology Conference at the Salt Palace this week. Some 3,000 participants and 190 exhibitors from the military services, industry and academia are teaching each other how to harness rapidly expanding computer capabilities to better the nation's armed forces.

It's truly the revenge of the nerds. Consider, for example, tough, macho Patton himself. Old Blood-and-Guts, known for his highly mobile and effective tank maneuvers, was a man's man, so ruthless and impetuous he once punched out one of his own soldiers.

Patton's flagrant disdain of academics was so well-known that his statue at the U.S. Military Academy, his alma mater, was erected facing the library to help Patton find in death the building he could never seem to locate in life.

But blood and guts aren't enough today. Military movement has gone from tank velocity to, quite literally, light speed. Computers are now an inescapable part of weapons systems and military tactics, and the officer who doesn't understand and use them as an integral part of defense strategy is setting himself or herself up for failure.

"We are breaking paradigms," Guenther said. "We are redefining the way the American Army (and Navy and Air Force) does business."

As always, Hill Air Force Base's Software Technology Support Center is hosting the conference. It has grown from 229 participants in 1989 to an anticipated 3,000 in 1995.

"We can't let the future in fast enough," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Carl O'Berry.

Conference presentations this year will focus on persuading computer systems within each military service and across service lines to communicate with each better. The conference theme is: "Arch-itecting the Information Highway for the Warrior."

"We're trying to get a tactical picture across the joint spectrum," said Navy Rear Adm. John Hek-man. "We will be thinking in three years in ways we cannot even imagine."

Given the circumstances, it's appropriate that instead of a bulky manuscript packet, conference participants will receive a CD-ROM disc containing text of most of the presentations as well as accompanying overheads and slides.

(Warning: computer joke imminent.)

"If memory fails them, they can always turn to their CD-ROM!" declared Jeri Cartwright, communications director for the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau.