Sunday, February 06, 2011

A severe winter storm

U.S. Army Spc. Daniel Logrosso, with the 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, assists a stranded motorist on a highway in Illinois Feb. 1, 2011. Approximately 500 Illinois National Guardsmen were called to state active duty by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn following a severe winter storm that caused several Midwestern governors to declare states of emergency. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Kassidy L Snyder, U.S. Army/Released)

Swift Connection Home for Deployed Troops

By Elaine Wilson of American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2011 - Deployed service members often count on connections home -- whether it's e-mail, Skype, Facebook or Twitter -- for encouragement, comfort or just a welcome diversion.
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Marine Corps Sgts. Wesley Johnson, left, and Robert Brown, both of the 1st Marine Logistics Group Exchange Detachment, set up a satellite dish for a morale satellite unit nicknamed the "Cheetah." These units offer free Internet access and phone service to service members deployed to remote locations in AfghanistanCourtesy photo 
But while Internet access has become a foregone conclusion on many large bases in Afghanistan, it's a different case in the more remote forward locations. Troops there may not have Internet access for weeks or months at a time.
To remedy that, officials are racing portable satellite units, nicknamed "Cheetahs," to forward-deployed troops in the farthest reaches of Afghanistan.
The name connotes speed, which the units deliver. Cheetahs come equipped with up to eight laptops, phones and a router to provide service members free, swift Internet access and crystal-clear Web or phone calls home.
"When it was broken out, it was like Christmas morning," one deployed Marine said of the satellite unit.
The Marine Corps started the program about two years ago to fill a communication gap for forward-deployed Marines, Jose Burgos of Marine Corps Community Services said. Timothy R. Larsen, director for the Marines' personal and family readiness division, asked his experts to come up with an idea that would enable Internet in some of the most remote, rugged spots in Afghanistan, he explained.
They came up with a portable and highly efficient satellite unit, Burgos said, which they pieced together from equipment that already had proven successful in the field. The Marine Corps Community Support Morale Satellite Office, which manages the program for the Defense Department, successfully tested three units in Afghanistan in 2008.
The benefits were evident, he said. Troops could set up and take the unit down in 20 minutes and run it off of a Humvee battery or generator. And since it's portable, it can be packed up and moved to any operation around the world at a moment's notice.

Defense Department officials tracked the program's success, and the Pentagon's military community and family policy office pitched in with enough funds to add 35 more units in 2009 for Marine Corps, Army and Air Force use. U.S. Forces Afghanistan joined with the military community and family policy office to fund 100 more in 2010 to further increase the access to remote areas, explained Pam Crespi, director of morale, welfare and recreation policy for the office of military community and family policy.
"Communication is the No. 1 morale factor in helping to cope with deployments," she said. "That's the driver behind our efforts. Because it's communication, it's one of our top priorities."
The program that started with three units now has grown to more than 130 -- either in Afghanistan or on their way –- reaching troops in some of the most remote and austere deployed locations, Crespi said.
The Marines' Cheetahs usually accompany a portable mini-post exchange -- loaded onto the back of a semi truck -- to an outpost, explained Joshua Montgomery, Wi-Fi and satellite communications manager for Marine Corps Community Services. News of the arrival spreads quickly, as does a line for the Cheetah. The line typically is longer for Cheetah use than for the PX, Montgomery noted.
That's understandable, he added, since the service members may have gone months without talking to loved ones.
"The service people are just happy. It doesn't cost them anything, and you can call directly back to your house," Montgomery said, noting the lines are so clear it's as if the person they're talking to is "right next door."
One Marine, Burgos recalled, hadn't talked with his pregnant wife in three months. The Cheetah came to his outpost a day after his baby was born, and he was able to talk to his wife in the hospital.
"Other stories like this one come back and make us feel real good," Montgomery said.
For the first 13 Cheetah units dedicated to Marine use in Afghanistan, experts have tracked usage at about 3,500 phone calls and more than 8,600 Internet sessions per month, he said.
Officials are looking to expand the unit's capability with more laptops. And the Marine Corps now sponsors a training component that offers a three-day course on operating the units to all services about four times a year, Montgomery said.
The Cheetah program is part of an overall endeavor to increase Internet access across Afghanistan, Crespi explained, noting that troops already have access to more than 400 free Internet cafes in Afghanistan equipped with more than 4,000 personal computers and nearly 2,000 phones.
The American Red Cross and USO also provide free Internet in their centers and canteens, and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service offers a fee-based service to troops who want Internet access in their personal living areas.
Related Sites:
Marine Corps Community Services
Military Community and Family Policy 

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarines in Afghanistan communicate with family and friends back home using morale satellite units nicknamed "Cheetahs." These units offer free Internet access and phone service to service members deployed to remote locations in Afghanistan. Courtesy photo 

Super Bowl Mania Grabs Deployed Troops

By Donna Miles of American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2011 - The 101st Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, which deployed to Afghanistan in August as part of the 30,000-troop surge, isn't going to let 7,500 miles and a 10-and-a-half-hour time difference keep its soldiers from doing exactly what they'd be doing back home at Fort Campbell, Ky.: cheering on their favorite team during Super Bowl XLV.
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Super Bowl mania is alive and well in Afghanistan, where members of the 101st Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team are gearing up to watch the big game live via American Forces Radio and Television Service. Here, Army Sgt. Kali Tackitt, left, and Army Staff Sgt. Todd Christopherson display their conflicting loyalties. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Graham 
Excitement is mounting at Forward Operating Base Sharana as many "Currahee Brigade" soldiers lay plans to watch the big game live.
The brigade will postpone all but the most critical of its regular nighttime meetings so troops can hit their racks early to get up to watch the game, reported Army Maj. Ali Johnson, the brigade public affairs officer.
For troops in Afghanistan, the kickoff will be at 5 a.m. local time Feb. 7.
Assembling around TVs being set up in morale, welfare and recreation tents and conference rooms around the base, they'll join their comrades in arms in 175 countries and aboard Navy ships at sea in an annual tradition that's as all-American as Thanksgiving and apple pie. American Forces Radio and Television Service has delivered the Super Bowl live since the game's inception in January 1967.
Servicemembers at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, where it will be 2:30 a.m. at kickoff, are gearing up for the festivities, too, reported Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lensch, a member of the Army Reserve's 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command's personal security team. Posters around the base are heralding the big event, and big flat-screen TVs will take center stage during myriad Super Bowl parties being planned.
"I think there are going to be a lot of people up all night watching the Super Bowl," Lensch said. "A lot of people are going to be walking around like zombies the next day," he added with a chuckle.
The Defense Logistics Agency has worked to make deployed troops' Super Bowl experience as down-home as possible, complete with all the chicken wings, pizza and chili they can handle, reported Nick Sistrun from DLA's Troop Support activity. In addition, DLA shipped almost 1,900 cases of mozzarella sticks, 1,300 cases of jalepeno poppers, 1,200 cases of meatballs and more than 1,500 cases of potato wedges to Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bradley Huber, a food service technician for the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Iraq, plans to serve up a big selection of pizza and finger foods during the game.
And in a special exception to policy -- one that Army Lt. Col. Gerard "Gerry" Schwarz, the unit's deputy support operations officer, emphasized is closely controlled -- the troops will get two beers each to drink during the game.
"There's only one time in the course of the year in Iraq that we are allowed to have two beers: Super Bowl Sunday," he said.
As the sustainers responsible for logistics distribution throughout Iraq, the 103rd tracked those deliveries just as closely as it monitors distribution of the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, he said.
"We're a 24-hour operation, so those who are finishing up the end of the night shift will be able to watch that game live and have their two beers and their pizza," Schwarz said. "And those of us that work during the day will have to wait until our shift is over and watch the rebroadcast, but we'll be able to go to the dining facility and have two beers and pizza."
Because of the early morning kickoff time in Afghanistan, Task Force Currahee plans to provide a lumberjack breakfast rather than traditional Super Bowl fare, Johnson said. And instead of beer, the soldiers will wash down their chow with coffee and juice.
Johnson called the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl live a huge morale boost for deployed troops. The Super Bowl, after all, represents a lot more than just good times and good food with family and friends, he said.
"It represents a small piece or tradition of America," Johnson said. "Soldiers enjoy being able to cheer for their favorite teams, talk trash and enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow soldiers while being away from home with their military extended family. Any event like this that gives soldiers the opportunity to take a breather is always good for morale."
Although they see themselves as a band of brothers in their combat mission, the Currahee soldiers exhibit some distinct differences in their team loyalties.
Army Sgt. Kali Tackitt, a supply sergeant from Auburn, Calif., comes from a family of die-hard Green Bay Packers fans. In fact, Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr, who earned most valuable player honors in the first two Super Bowls -- wrote her uncle a letter back when he was 9 years old, and it's been passed down through her family as a prized heirloom.
Like many of her fellow Packers fans, Tackitt said she's suffered along with her team as it endured injuries and "unfortunate losses" over the season.
"But we made it through, and it showed all the haters what we are all about," she said. "I will be a Packers fan in good times and bad times, and trust and believe I will be wearing my cheesehead hat and my Aaron Rodgers or Greg Jennings jersey on the night of the 6th. ... I am super excited for my team to be in the Super Bowl, and I cannot wait until they earn their ring!"
Army Staff Sgt. Todd Christopherson, the brigade's public affairs noncommissioned officer in charge from Rapid City, S.D., feels as passionately about the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers have been my team since I can remember watching the black-and-gold with my father, who is also a diehard fan, in the lean years back before the '70s," he said. "They played with heart and fire even when they were a losing team."
Christopherson remembered watching his very first live football game at Pittsburgh's old Three Rivers Stadium. He thrilled to roar of the spectators, whom he called "those nuts -- my kind of people," many of them wearing no shirts despite the bitter cold. "It was a sight to see and hear," he recalled with pride.
The experience Christopherson expects and that he and his fellow soldiers will enjoy this weekend, transcends football, he said. "It was not just about the game or the fans," he said. "It was about good old-fashioned American pride. You may win, but by God, you will know you were in a game and damn sure worked for it."
Although mission requirements will prevent him from being able to watch the game live, Lensch called the chance to watch the Super Bowl live a great escape for troops thousands of miles from home.
"It just takes you away," he said, comparing it to his experience as he sat with about 200 fellow soldiers during his last deployment to Iraq watching the "Ice Age 2" movie.
"For that short amount of time, it feels like you're not here," he said. "You can forget about everything and just take all the weight off your shoulders."
(Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Graham of the 101st Airborne Division's Task Force Currahee and Nick Sistrun of the DLA Troop Support activity contributed to this article.)
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AFRTS Gears Up for Live Super Bowl Telecast