The Military’s Journey to Better Holiday Communications for Soldiers
Guest Blogger: Kelly Jones
As a U.S. Navy veteran, Kelly brings a unique perspective on military communications technology to Cisco, where she currently serves as a Defense Expert.
Most of us know someone who is either deployed overseas, on a ship, or stationed on a base in another state. Military families understand the mission and dedication needed to keep our country safe, but they still miss their loved ones—especially during the holidays. And while co-workers become like family and the military and volunteer groups make efforts to bring cherished traditions to the front line, something is always missing for deployed service members without that direct connection to loved ones.
Military communications before the Internet
How our service members communicate back home has seen significant evolution over the years. Before the Internet and the widespread adoption of computers, deployed service members relied on pre-screened, heavily sanitized wire cables, letters, and an occasional expensive phone call to provide the vital link to loved ones during the holidays.
Having grown up in a military home and served myself, I’ve experienced the progression from holiday greetings as a treat to an expectation in our military communities. As a kid with a father deployed in Vietnam, often it would be well into the new year before our holiday greetings finally came. Phone calls? Not an option. Video Chat? Only in science fiction.
Years later while stationed in a communications branch in Spain, I at least knew how to patch a phone line or which base operators near my family were nice enough to transfer a military call to my home. It worked, but we were often limited to 10 minutes of talk time with a delay; “Merry Christmas” (count to five), “Merry Christmas to you too” (count to five).
The Internet and communications for defense
Around that same time, we installed something at our base they called the Internet. I received training in TCP/IP, packet switching, and a clever concept known as email. In the beginning, it was official use only and just another system for me to maintain.
By the time I left the Navy, this Internet thing had expanded beyond the military into people’s homes and my training led to a position supporting the military version of a service provider. Just before the holidays one year, I logged onto their router and corrected a misconfiguration. Afterwards I received a letter from the ship’s commanding officer thanking me and noting I was “personally responsible for the holiday happiness of 4000 sailors and marines.”
I thought I was simply restoring a circuit, but it turns out I had restored much more. The Internet was officially no longer just about military operations, it was about morale and keeping our service members connected during the most important events in their lives.
Today, men and women who enter the service have grown up with social media and chat. They carry smart phones and receive tablets in boot camp. Communicating with family members is no longer a rare treat, but an expectation.
The future of military communications
While advances in technology and readily available endpoints improve the quality of communications between deployed military and their families, some challenges still remain. Many times, our service members are deployed to locations with limited, unstable bandwidth and power. And security, of course, is always a concern. To keep pace with the continued demand, the military needs to invest in secure technologies that can readily shift bandwidth between operational and morale requirements while guaranteeing the quality of voice and video across the Internet.
We are lucky to live in a time when our service members can communicate from almost anywhere, making the holidays much brighter for them and their loved ones. Between the laughter and holiday greetings remember the technology that makes that joy possible. Know that the military continues to improve that technology so deployed soldiers feel like they’re home for the holidays, no matter where they are.