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New communications platform helps EOD save lives, time

by Senior Airman Clark Staehle
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

7/19/2007 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Explosive ordnance disposal teams deployed to the areas of responsibility throughout Southwest Asia now have one more tool to help them fight the war on terrorism. 

The very small aperture terminal, or VSAT, is a computer system that gives EOD teams the capability to make DSN calls and send and receive information to and from anywhere in the world. 

"(VSAT) is a satellite communications platform that is easily portable and can be used in austere conditions," said Master Sgt. Ralph Godfrey, the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron EOD Flight chief. "It provides communications, both data and voice, to EOD teams working in areas where they previously had either limited or no communications." 

Once set up, the VSAT is programmed with a Global Positioning System to automatically locate the nearest satellite, find the best signal and align itself with it. The portable equipment runs on a vehicle's battery power, though it can be configured to use alternating current from an outlet. This versatility gives any EOD team support anywhere in the AOR. 

Many forward operating bases where EOD teams operate don't have reliable communication. When EOD teams are in the field, it's necessary for them to send incident reports to U.S. Central Command Air Forces officials. The information can then be sent out to coalition forces who can then use the intel to avoid other improvised explosive devices insurgents may have planted, and, in turn, save lives. 

Part of what makes the VSAT attractive is the amount of time it can save -- a trained user can set it up in about 15 minutes. 

"The VSAT allows EOD teams to immediately submit reports of the most recent threats in their area," said Senior Airman Josh Harris, a 379th ECES EOD member. "Prior to the VSAT, sometimes teams would have to wait several weeks before they could go from a (forward operating base) to main base to have access to (classified communication systems). With this kit they can always have access to those services. Because of that, it allows us, and intel, to more easily see how the insurgents (tactics, trends and procedures) are changing so we can better adapt our own TTPs to defeat the threats in the AOR." 

Without VSAT, it could take several weeks to relay the information. A member of the EOD team would have to stay behind at a forward operating base, trying to relay the intel through the proper channels -- a process that might have taken weeks. By that time, any intel gathered is likely unusable and no longer applicable. 

"Insurgent attacks are constantly evolving, but the VSAT allows us to report the most up-to-date information so that intel provided to everyone operating outside the wire is as up to date as possible," Airman Harris said. 

The EOD team here is charged with receiving the VSATs and sending them into the AOR to Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps EOD teams. 

"The 379th has been the focal point for bringing the units into the AOR," said Sergeant Godfrey, a native of Portland, Ore. "Our job is to receive the units, and test them prior to shipping. The goal is to work out any major problems here, so the teams in the field can get the units up and running with as little trouble as possible." 

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