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[infowar.de] 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  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
"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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