New program connects wounded warriors with loved ones
Army Staff Sergeant Kris Sapp, a 101st Airborne Division fire support specialist, uses a computer on the morale network at the 455th Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility. Sergeant Sapp was wounded in Afghanistan's Ghazni province as the result of an improvised explosive device attack. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Capt. Erick Saks)
by Capt. Erick Saks
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
12/13/2010 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The 455th Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility staff teamed up with Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Communication Squadron to offer wounded warriors a way to communicate with loved ones as they make their journey home.
The 455th ECS completed the installation of a wireless morale network Dec. 5, 2010, for the Craig Joint Theater Hospital CASF and intensive care unit to allow injured service members awaiting medical evacuation to access the Internet.
"When I arrived here in July, the staff made a commitment to leave the CASF better than we found it," said Lt Col. Bridget Brozyna, CASF flight commander. "We conducted a survey to see what the patients wanted that they weren't getting, and overwhelmingly, they asked for Internet access."
The CASF cares for injured service members who are able to cognitively function such as those with broken bones or concussions, said the colonel. Patients come from throughout Afghanistan and generally spend two days to a week before departing the facility. Prior to the installation of the network, patients had to travel to one of the relatively distant morale network access points on Bagram to access the Internet.
"We've pushed patients in wheelchairs across base so they could get online to speak with their family," Colonel Brozyna added. "Our goal is to do anything we can - medically and mentally - to help the patients."
The colonel praised the effort made by the 455th ECS Airmen to get the network installed.
Airman 1st Class Esteban Cervantes, the sole manager of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing's morale network, headed up a team including Senior Airman Andrew Trainer, a cable maintenance technician, and Senior Airman David Wilson, a network management operator, to install the network in the hospital.
Once initiated, the project took just 30 days to complete including the acquisition of all materials and the installation of more than 300 feet of wiring, according to Airman Cervantes. And, the entire project cost less than $500 to complete, largely by reusing materials that were available through the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office.
"We got a list of all the materials in theater on DRMO and found what we needed to do the job," said Airman Cervantes. "We're always looking for ways to save the taxpayers' money."
From a professional standpoint, Airman Wilson said the project was a "comm guy's dream."
"Back home, we working on existing, old networks," said the Airman. "During this project, we got to build a network from the ground up."
Personally, building a network to connect wounded warriors with their families, affected all three Airmen.
"These guys are real heroes," said Airman Trainer, who comes from a family of veterans, including a cousin who was injured in the line of duty. "We are happy to give back to them."
During the short time the morale network has been available in the CASF, Colonel Brozyna said she has already seen a significant response from the transiting patients.
"The patients have been thrilled with the access." she said. "Since the network was installed, there isn't a moment that someone isn't online. It really helps to improve their morale as they wait."
The colonel recalled a Marine who recently stayed at the CASF during his redeployment.
"He got to see pictures of his baby daughter for the first time here," she said. "He was so excited. It made us all cry. He just said 'thank you, thank you, thank you!'"
Army Staff Sergeant Kris Sapp, a 101st Airborne Division fire support specialist, was wounded in Afghanistan's Ghazni province as the result of an improvised explosive device attack. He expressed his and his family's gratitude that he was able to communicate with his loved ones through the new system during his stay in the CASF.
"Since I've been here, I've been able to contact my family and friends to let them know I'm somewhat ok," said the soldier. "I was able to reassure them that I've got all of my fingers and all of my toes."
The convenience of having Internet access in the CASF is especially important to Sergeant Sapp, who is still sensitive to bright light. He said walking across the base to use the Internet was out of the question.
This is not the staff sergeant's first time through the medical evacuation process. In 2005, he was wounded by an IED while deployed to Iraq; however, it took significantly longer before he was able to communicate home.
"This time, it was about two days before I was able to reach my family," said Sergeant Sapp. "In Iraq, it took about a week."
The communications squadron Airmen and CASF staff both expressed their interest in continuing to improve access. Airman Cervantes said that he expects that the capability of the morale network will continually evolve and expand. Colonel Brozyna hopes to expand the availability of the morale network in the CASF from two to at least four computers, and she is looking into the feasibility of offering headsets so that patients can make Internet calls.