Science and Technology News

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Video Teleconferences Keep Soldiers Communicating

By Army Sgt. Andy Mehler
Special to American Forces Press Service

Nov. 24, 2009 - Dependable communication is essential for any successful organization, and for a deployed military unit, that holds all the more true. Keeping communications dependable here falls in part to Army Master Sgt. Thomas Kemble and Army 1st Lt. Francis Conroy of the Pennsylvania National Guard's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Kemble and Conroy work in the "S6" shop, which is responsible for most types of communication used by the 28th, including computer, telephone and radio. They also are responsible for ensuring video teleconferences are reliable, secure and available as needed.

The brigade's units use video teleconferences to communicate within Iraq and with leadership back home in Pennsylvania, Kemble said.

Kemble said he sets up his video conferences using a computer, a large monitor, a webcam and microphones, and the group he plans to link with must have the same setup on their end.

"The drawback is limited bandwidth, so we are routed through special communication hubs," he said. "We hook into the hub, which then hooks us into a conference."

Hubs in Iraq are located in Baghdad and Basra.

"We are in a location that does not have commercial Internet support, so we set up our own backbone to access commercial Internet," Kemble said.

The soldiers use a combination of military and civilian support for their mission, he said. Mission-related communications are done on a secure network, and communications not related to the mission, such as morale events, are done on nonsecure networks.

"We've set up conferences here on Adder for [Multinational Division South] to hook up with the aviation brigade and other commands," Conroy said. AT&T has the contract for nonsecure broadcasts, and is used as the hub for communications back home, the Springfield, Pa., resident added.

Kemble and Conroy set up a conference with a family readiness group's Halloween party for unit families. The children had their costumes on, and they could talk with and see their parents and loved ones here. Also, with technical support from St. Francis University on Oct. 12, Kemble set up an opportunity here for soldiers to participate. The event gave older veterans some interaction with today's soldiers and allowed them a glimpse of daily life and duty in Iraq.

Aside from running conferences, Kemble is the main communication security custodian, which means he ensures all electronic communications are secure for transmission. Conroy also works with the supply shop to order communication equipment and issues the brigades mobile and satellite phones.

(Army Sgt. Andy Mehler serves with the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.)

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