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Guard Uses Chat Room to Support Relief Effort

By Air Force Staff Sgt. J. Paul Croxon
Special to American Forces Press Service

SAN JUAN, P.R., Jan. 21, 2010 – With the recent earthquake destroying so much of Haiti’s infrastructure, communication between military units remains vital to supporting the relief effort.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force 1st Lt. Tirso Peña, a navigator assigned to the Puerto Rico Air National Guard's 156th Airlift Squadron, monitors a chat room at the Puerto Rico National Guard joint operations center in San Juan, P.R. Multiple military units use the chat room to transmit information about the Haitian earthquake relief efforts. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Paul Croxon

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

A readily available chat client is being used to relay critical information between the services and is proving to be a powerful communication tool.

Defense Connect Online is similar to many commercial chat clients. It has different virtual chat rooms where groups can congregate and disseminate information; however, these chat rooms are filled with military members from every service.

“This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this,” said Air Force 1st Lt. Tirso Peña, a navigator from the 156th Airlift Wing who is working in the Puerto Rico National Guard joint operations center. “We’re able to see all this information and requests for support and disseminate the pertinent information down to the individual units.”

One such instance occurred when a Navy P-3 Orion was trying to communicate with Army units on the ground, Peña said. The radio frequency information for the Army unit was relayed to the P-3 via the chat room, saving the sailors valuable time searching channel by channel.

Other uses for the chat room involve getting supplies to the people who need it most. Peña said he saw a request from units on the ground for food, water and medical supplies for an orphanage that hadn’t seen any relief since the quake hit.

“We were able to funnel that information to our Puerto Rico National Guard units in the Dominican Republic who were able to load a [HH-60] Black Hawk helicopter and get those supplies to the 20 or so orphans.”

The Defense Connect Online program fits a unique set of circumstances since the earthquake devastated the telecommunications infrastructure but left some Internet connectivity. It also is an efficient way to organize information by audience, mission or geographic location.

“I’ve seen the system be used to relay information such as flight times from Puerto Rico to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and to help plan missions to extract a little girl with internal bleeding,” Peña said. “It’s one more tool to get aid to the people who need it most.”

(Air Force Staff Sgt. J. Paul Croxon serves with the Defense Media Activity-San Antonio.)

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief
National Guard Bureau

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