DoD Develops 'Tap and Click' Access to Services
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2001 Service members and their families may one day use a DoD Internet site to communicate across the globe, access military and civilian news, college courses, community outreach services and even apply for jobs at the click of a mouse.
Victor Vasquez Jr., deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, sees DoD's "Keep in Touch" information technology strategy -- reaching out to the military community through the Internet -- as a quality of life multiplier.
"'Keep in Touch' serves three purposes: information, communication between service members and their families, and providing a greater opportunity for service members and their families to access Department of Defense, and other, services," he said. "For example, you could find on- or off-post child-care services, tax filing information, relocation, and other services through the Internet."
In fiscal 1999, Congress provided DoD $50 million to improve quality of life for deployed forces, Vasquez said. Almost $18 million went to buy computers and software to provide service member and family communications from installation recreation centers, youth centers and libraries.
Vasquez said morale is enhanced when service members and spouses separated by thousands of miles use these stateside and overseas "cyber-communications" centers to keep in touch with loved ones.
"Service members keep a greater focus on mission when they know that their families are doing well while they're deployed," he said. "There is also a need for the spouse and the children to have contact with the service member, so it works both ways."
Military leaders and rank and file service members and their families have applauded DoD's recent high-tech communications initiatives, Vasquez said.
"The [leadership] feedback is that this is something very positive and worthwhile," he said. "I've also gone into the computer centers and have seen service members waiting to get online, so they can send messages home.
"We were in the Balkans, and one of the most active places was the education center where service members were taking online classes via computer."
In addition to providing communication services and technological awareness, DoD also wants "to tie the service member, and his or her family, to direct services via the Internet," Vasquez said.
The Air Force and Navy now have Internet-based systems which offer links to community services, military benefits, and other information, to include distance learning sites, Vasquez said. The Army, too, is now working to establish an online distance learning system for its soldiers.
He noted that an Air Force system, called Crossroads, has an employment section currently limited to Air Force spouses that will offer employment opportunities in traditional positions, as well as telecommuting jobs.
"Those kinds of things are starting to take place, but it takes time to build that," Vasquez said. "It also takes time to build a system in a way that people realize they can get online and access services, as well as information.
"In this day and age, I believe you can do both, via the Internet," he added.
To explore current information technology systems and future possibilities, DoD hosted a Quality of Life Technology Symposium in Seattle in Feb. 2000. Vasquez said that more than 40 information technology vendors and 450 base-level representatives attended.
"We wanted to get a sense of the best technological practices out there. Afterward, we did a needs assessment, which was put into our strategic planning," he said. "Right now, we have a lot of programs and services out there that are being built by individual offices with no comprehensive strategy."
Vasquez believes DoD will eventually establish an "umbrella" Internet web site featuring information and services targeted to DoD military members and civilians with links to information and services available through service-specific and civilian sites. "Those things common to all [services] could be on the umbrella page," Vasquez said.
"Those things unique and specific to individual services could be reached by links.
"But, everything should be tied together, so you don't have to search here and there," he said.