Saturday, October 04, 2003

The Morale, Welfare and Recreation program is bringing 145 cyber cafes, many in mobile tents, to areas with high troop density. The other 32 cafes will be set up in community centers at more permanent camps, said Army Maj. Jonathan Sirmon, deputy MWR programs officer for Coalition Joint Task Force-7 in Baghdad...

Most of the 130,000 troops in Iraq “should be within a reasonable time or distance to get to one,” he said in a phone interview from Camp Victory.

Troops don’t have to pay for Internet use at the cafes, which will have about 20 computers each, more than 3,500 total.

The 32 community center sites will have Dell personal computers with CyberCams and microphones, from which troops can provide streaming videos of themselves.

“It’s pretty much like a private video teleconference,” Sirmon said.

The other 145 cafes will have Gateway laptops and eight voice-over-Internet phones for personal use. Using an access code, troops and their loved ones will be able to purchase phone minutes online at starting in about two weeks.

The equipment is arriving in Iraq, and the first cafes will be set up in the next two weeks, Sirmon said. He estimated that all the cafes will be operational by January. Condon said he hoped the cafes were running by the end of November.

“It’s difficult to move in the theater, we have to get them out as far as possible as we can … a lot depends on how fast the equipment comes in,” Sirmon said.

Sirmon estimated the cost to be about $20 million in mission-essential appropriated funds.

It’s money well spent to improve troop morale, said Ann Bergstrom, contingency operations manager for G-1, the U.S. Army Europe division based in Heidelberg, Germany, that takes care of personnel issues such as MWR for deployed servicemembers...

She said she hopes the cafes are all up and running by the holidays.

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