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[] US Navy: Surface Warfare Officer Network (SWON),

Web site links Navy war officers

By SONJA BARISIC, Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. (December 27, 2002 3:21 p.m. EST) - When Lt. Cmdr. 
Michael Crockett was promoted to executive officer of the guided 
missile destroyer USS Porter, he naturally sought advice from fellow 
officers on other ships. 

But he didn't pick up the phone. 

Crockett posted a query for "XO pearls of wisdom" on an Internet 
discussion list for U.S. Navy surface warfare officers, or SWOs - the 
10,000 or so junior officers who command a ship's sailors and lead 
them in combat. 

He received many responses, from words of encouragement to suggestions 
on how to streamline tasks. 

The discussion list is just one feature of the Surface Warfare Officer
Network, which debuted a year ago. SWONET [1] is a Web portal where
SWOs can receive counsel from colleagues stationed worldwide. They can
air their gripes, obtain training documents and stay in touch with
family and friends.

"It's virtual mentoring," said Crockett, who reported to the 
Norfolk-based Porter a few months ago. "In this busy life we have, 
it's neat to be able to log on to something and when someone else has 
the time, they can give you some free advice." 

The site - most of which is off-limits to the public - appears to be a 
hit, especially its discussion groups. There are 13,500 separate 
conversation threads like Crockett's on the site. 

Since July 2001, traffic to the groups has jumped from 17,000 page 
views, to 665,000 a year later, to 1.2 million by Nov. 1, said SWONET 
program manager Tom Hart, who works for Integic Corp., the Chantilly, 
Va.-based company that developed the site under contract with the 

SWONET arose from the Navy's desire to find a better way to 
communicate with junior officers, said Lt. Cmdr. John Fuller, who 
manages SWONET as part of his Pentagon responsibilities overseeing the 
surface-warfare community. 

"There's a lot of information that doesn't get out because ships are 
spread out," Fuller said. "There wasn't a dedicated forum like this 
before. This gives people the opportunity to talk about things outside 
the wardroom, outside the waterfront." 

The Navy pays Integic roughly $1 million a year to support the site, 
including changes to content and security patches that have so far 
shielded it from hackers, Hart said. 

Integic designed the site to cope with achingly slow satellite 
connections on the Navy's smallest ships, which, in some cases, share 
as little as 32 kilobits-per-second of bandwidth between six computer 
workstations - a fraction of the bandwidth of a home dial-up 
connection, he said. 

For larger ships and shore command posts, where bandwidth isn't a 
problem, the Navy has added streaming video to the site so an admiral 
can sit at his desk and videotape a morale-boosting message for 
officers to view at their convenience. 

"This system is there to let those officers out there on the tip of 
the spear know that the community still cares about them," said John 
Sutton, vice president for uniformed services at Integic. 

Some 60 percent of SWOs have looked at the site. A third are regular 
users, Integic says. 

As an attraction, SWONET users get a personal e-mail address that they 
can keep throughout their careers. Regular Navy e-mail addresses are 
tied to commands, meaning sailors must get new addresses each time 
they are reassigned - often every two years. 

The network's search mechanism allows users to track down and e-mail 
counterparts based on criteria such as their ships, graduating class 
or job responsibilities. 

"Say I'm in operations and I have a question for other ops officers. 
I'll click on 'ops' and search," said Lt. Chris Senenko, the Porter's 
operations officer. Senenko demonstrated SWONET in the ship's combat 
information center, a darkened room where battle is managed. 

Discussion groups, the most popular feature, let sailors exchange job 
advice, discuss investments and ask where to find housing or what the 
schools are like where they are about to be stationed. 

"What's neat about it is it's 100 percent anonymous," Crockett said. 

That makes people free to speak their minds, which can result in some 
lively discussions, he said. 


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