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Soldiers Gain Easier Access to Family, Friends

By Capt. Russell S. Cunningham, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan, March 10, 2008 – Staying involved in the lives of loved ones is a challenge for many deployed soldiers.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt 1st Class Daren Brekke, a member of Task Force Pacemaker, is able to chat with his family in the convenience of his room because of civilian Internet services provided at Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan. U.S Army photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Starting in April 2007, Task Force Pacemaker communication specialists helped soldiers overcome this major challenge by providing civilian Internet in their quarters.

With an ever-expanding population here, the existing Morale, Welfare and Recreation system has not been sufficient to accommodate soldiers without long wait times and minimal actual time on the system. Many times, soldiers would stay up late waiting to use the phone and end up cutting into their sleep, thereby affecting their work.

M. Sami Hashimi, CEO of Internet service provider AFSAT, said many units throughout Afghanistan have turned to a civilian Internet system to reduce the burden on MWR facilities.

The company purchases local or third-country satellite Internet systems to meet soldiers’ needs. These systems range in size from a few friends in the same tent getting together to buy a system to more than 300 users spread across an expanding forward operating base.

These systems are user purchased, user resourced and user operated. The gains in family communication and morale have been considerable for TF Pacemaker, as a high operational tempo has made access to communications at all times important, officials said.

“There were many challenges in setting up the network,” Army 1st Lt. Tabber Mintz said.

The largest of challenge was managing realistic expectations. Soldiers were briefed ahead of time on what to expect from the system so they were less likely to be dissatisfied with the service.”

The second issue was ensuring all users agreed to follow set guidelines. Soldiers were able to use Web cams, instant messengers and voice applications.

“The final concern that needed to be addressed was the absence of the equipment needed to raise the quality of service to our soldiers,” said Army Sgt. Jonathan Morris.

Morris and Mintz came up with innovative ways to resource necessary equipment. Mintz said this made the system much more efficient, allowing soldiers better access to Web-based applications.

Soldiers voice their appreciation on a daily basis for the ability to continue meaningful communications with loved ones and for the capacity to find ways to unwind and relax at the end of the day.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Daren Brekke, from Paradise, Mont., is a father of eight and uses the civilian Internet service to communicate with his family. “We are a long ways from home. Being able to communicate with loved ones via the civilian Internet and Web cam increases soldiers’ morale and closes the disconnect between the soldiers and their families caused by lengthy and frequent deployments,” he said.

(Army Capt. Russell S. Cunningham is assigned to Task Force Pacemaker.)

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Related Sites:
Combined Joint Task Force 82
NATO International Security Assistance Force


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