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Comfort's Mission Connected with Technology

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070904-09
Release Date: 9/4/2007 4:14:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elizabeth Allen, USNS Comfort Public Affairs

ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Electronic communications are crucial for the crew members aboard hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), and would be impossible without e-mail, satellites, shared drives and the information technology team, which has kept the ship wired for success during the past two-and-a-half months.

Twenty-nine Navy active duty, reservists and civilians deal with the inter-workings of all communications aboard Comfort as well as at remote medical and construction work sites ashore. They are also the first ones called when the Internet goes down.

“Communication is key aboard the ship,” said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Joe Williford, a reservist attached to Comfort’s automated data processing (ADP) department. “E-mail keeps everyone on the same level of knowledge and lets people know what they need to do to support each other.”

The radio department aboard Comfort operates a WSC-8 super high frequency satellite system referred to as “Whiskey-8” to send and receive information, which is necessary for all three aspects of communications -– radio, Broadband Global Area Network (B-GAN) portable satellite terminals, phones and ADP.

A two-person communications team accompanies medical staff and construction team members to work sites in each country. They establish satellite connections with satellite phones and use software chat programs with the B-GAN, and communicate back to the ship regarding patient and crew member movement and the coordination of travel. They also deal with the same challenges they have on the ship –- when the satellite moves out of radio frequency range due to ship movement, connectivity is lost momentarily, both on the ship and ashore.

“Satellites and connectivity is always an issue,” Williford said. “But we work through it. We keep in mind that we are not only here for the members of the ship, but also the patients in the countries we visit. The best part about being a part of the communication team is getting off the ship, working at some of these sites and seeing the result of my work. I enjoy being a part of the medical mission, observing the patients I helped communicate about to the ship that will be receiving care.”

Despite not having Comfort wired under the IT-21 setup -– a system of configuring networks identical to those on other ships making it easier to troubleshoot and repair issues -– the communications crew has been able to press on with limited communication problems, keeping all attached to Comfort connected.

The communications crew work long hours on shore and on ship to make sure everyone can perform their piece of the mission to the best of their ability, in a world where electronic communication is paramount.

“When the teams return from shore, their first priority is to clean their gear and perform any necessary maintenance,” said Senior Chief Information Systems Technician Nelson Clark. “It is very impressive what the B-GAN teams do. They have reduced their setup time ashore to approximately 10 minutes. Radio and ADP teams work 12-hour shifts, two sections aboard Comfort to support 24-hour communications. They are all true professionals; I could not have hand picked a better group.”

Comfort continues to explore alternatives for shore to ship communications, including a Ground Antenna Transmit Receive satellite antenna prototype, which the communications team tested in Manta, Ecuador in August.

Comfort is on a four-month humanitarian deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean providing medical care to patients in a dozen countries.

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