Satellite communications boost troops' morale in Iraq

Military satellite communications are an absolute necessity on the battlefield, where commanders need real-time access to intelligence information to guide the movements of troops and targeting of weapons.

But for the soldiers serving in Iraq under Staff Sgt. Jose Matias, a satellite link also has meant access to personal e-mail, web cam conversations with loved and other news from home.

"As an infantry company we don't have the luxuries that a supporting unit might have," Matias said in an e-mail interview with Washington Technology. "Since mid-March we have pretty much been on our own."

Using its own money, Matias' unit ? a part of the 124th Infantry of the Florida National Guard - purchased a DirecWay terminal, a Hughes Network Systems device that provides a link to the Internet via satellite.

About 20 computers can be connected to one terminal, said Michael Pollack, director of business development for government and global networks for Hughes Network Systems Inc. of Germantown, Md.

The company has sold about 500 units in Iraq and Afghanistan that are being used by American and British soldiers as well as the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority and nongovernmental organizations working in the countries.

Tachyon Inc. of San Diego also is selling satellite equipment in Iraq that gives troops broadband access to the Internet.

For now the systems are mostly used for personal communications, providing a morale boost to troops far from home, company officials said.

"When it comes to the military in Iraq, all services are mission critical whether they are related directly or indirectly to combat success," said Mark Cercenstein, president and chief executive officer of Tachyon.

A typical Hughes' DirecWay unit sells for between $2,000 and $3,000, Pollack said. In addition to Matias' unit, other units with DirecWay include the 101st Airborne, the 1st Armored Division, the 4th Infantry and the 82nd Airborne.

Tachyon has sent up a system serving 250 troops with the 11th Aviation Regiment of the U.S. Army 5th Corps.

"Every soldier in Iraq in Iraq has an e-mail account through the Army Knowledge Online," Pollack said. "The market there has a long way to grow."

For Matias and his fellow troops, the impact of the systems was immediate.

Letters take three weeks or more to get from home to the unit. Internet access had to be borrowed from supporting units that had their own equipment, Matias said.

Once they had the Hughes equipment, Matias set up a web cam to see his wife Denise and their three children.

"Our first conversation ? was unbelievable," he said. "To see my kids jumping around in the background almost brought tears to my eyes."

Senior Editor Nick Wakeman can be reached at nwakeman@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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