By SUSANNE M. SCHAFER, Associated Press Writer Mon May 9, 1:27 PM ET
CHARLESTON NAVAL WEAPONS STATION, S.C. - Since the Navy began setting up
"Internet cafes" for soldiers overseas to keep in touch with their loved
ones, almost 200 of the high-tech tents have sprung up in war zones.
Two years ago, civilians working for the Navy started the $20 million
program to set up communications systems -- basically tents with 20
laptop computers and eight telephones -- as a morale boost for Army
soldiers stationed in Iraq.
Now there are 183 of the sites in Iraq, four in Afghanistan and even
two aboard oil platforms in the Persian Gulf that are manned by the
U.S. military, said project manager and retired Marine Steve Rhorer.
"I manage it all from here," he says, opening his arms wide during a
recent interview in his small office cubicle at the military base just
a few miles up the river from historic downtown Charleston.
Rhorer is part of the Navy's research and development arm known as
SPAWAR, which designs and installs communications gear and maintains
other high-tech items for many government agencies that involve
gleaning battlefield intelligence, surveillance information or support
for military aircraft control towers.
The mobile communication stations were developed here. Each unit is
contained in a 640-square-foot tent outfitted with printers, air
conditioning, generators and satellite communication sets. Each site
is designed to serve about 1,000 soldiers.
Rhorer said his unit hopes to begin sending smaller tents to more
remote areas of Iraq and Afghanistan to serve groups of 400 to 500
soldiers. "We want to expand. We are looking at half-size cafes," he
The cyber cafes' No. 1 enemy isn't insurgent attacks; it's the dust,
Rhorer said. "The dust is just a killer. You are involved in constant
preventive maintenance," he said.
Showing how the Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol system works, Rhorer
dialed up a co-worker in Iraq, Troy Caffey, a civilian with 31 years
in the Navy.
Caffey, who spoke from a site north of Baghdad, said he's pleased the
systems have helped soldiers stay in contact with their families and
"In all the years I was in the Navy, there was a lot of separation
anxiety. I don't feel any of that here at all," he said.
In recent years, e-mail communication has become easier for sailors on
some larger ships and at some high-tech military bases around the
world, but it was not available to most soldiers in the field.
Caffey said the cafe at his base is very busy. Even at 4 a.m.,
"there's always someone here. ... This place is in constant use 24
hours a day," he said.
The e-mail service is free and phone calls cost about 4.7 cents a
minute. Soldiers can pay by credit card or families can prepay for
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at
http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/more-news.html . Hundreds of new
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Some long time readers will recall that
the time I moved from Chicago back home here to Kansas I had a job for
a few months as a civilian employee for the U.S. Army in Junction City,
Kansas working at Fort Riley where I was teaching some guys _how_ to
operate/maintain cybercafes. This was in 1999, or prior to the most
recent conflict. Even back then, the Army wanted to make the transition
to email/internet where the soldiers were concerned. The Army wanted
some 'internet experts' (I guess they thought I was one) to teach the
guys what to do, so they in turn could show new recruits in overseas
bases, etc. Then my brain had to blow apart in November of that year,
sort of like the exploding frogs in Belgium last month, so that ended
my role in it. PAT]