- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007


To honor an employee’s son who was severely wounded in Iraq, IBM Corp. plans to give the U.S. military $45 million worth of Arabic-English translation technology that the Pentagon had been testing for possible purchase.

The offer — made from the highest reaches of the company directly to President Bush — is so unusual that Defense Department and IBM lawyers have been scouring federal laws to make sure the government can accept the donation.

The story begins one night in late February, when Army Sgt. Mark Ecker Jr., 21, on his second tour in Iraq, was on patrol in Ramadi.

Preparing to raid a house, Sgt. Ecker’s unit lined up along one side of the building. But an explosive device had been hidden in the wall, and when it went off, it wounded several soldiers. Sgt. Ecker eventually lost both legs below the knee.

Sgt. Ecker’s father, an IBM mainframe sales specialist in East Longmeadow, Mass., told the story of his son’s ordeal to co-workers, and word spread through the company. Eventually, it reached Chairman and CEO Samuel Palmisano.

IBM would not make Mr. Palmisano available for comment, but according to other IBM executives, Mr. Palmisano had heard from several IBM employees who have returned from active duty in Iraq that a shortage of Arabic translators has severely hampered U.S. forces’ efforts to communicate.

With that and Sgt. Ecker’s experience in mind, Mr. Palmisano called and wrote Mr. Bush, offering to make IBM’s Multilingual Automatic Speech Translator software, known as MASTOR, “immediately available for use by our forces in Iraq.” Mr. Palmisano offered 10,000 copies of the MASTOR software and 1,000 devices equipped with it, plus training and technical support.

Separately, Anne Altman, who oversees IBM’s federal sales in the District, contacted Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to reiterate the offer and get guidance on how to make it happen.

Adm. Giambastiani told IBM that he appreciated the donation, although, according to his spokesman, Lt. Col. Gary Tallman, “the offer is under evaluation right now” and “does not constitute acceptance” by the Department of Defense.

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