Commanders, Soldiers Bridge Distances With VTC

SARAJEVO, Bosnia—Step inside the nondescript door of one of a series of standard 40-foot shipping containers that serve as overflow offices at the CINC IFOR compound here, and you'll see a plush video teleconferencing room with three giant TV screens.

Adm. Leighton Smith, commander in chief of the NATO Implementation Force (CINC IFOR), uses this PictureTel Corp. system to keep in touch with NATO commanders in the theater. This is one of three PictureTel video teleconferencing (VTC) systems used by IFOR commanders.

In a similar but more austere room in a command center housed in a trailer in Heidelberg, Germany, Spec. 4 Holly Johnson runs the V Corps VTC center. With the click of a mouse, Johnson summons video images from the Sava River and Tuzla, Bosnia, VTC centers. Images from each flash on and off the screens of her console and the wide screens at the front of the trailer.

"It's not hard," she says. "Since there are more sites than screens, you just have to keep up with who's talking."

VTC systems allow commanders to quickly scribble their thoughts on a board or transfer PowerPoint slides for simultaneous viewing in multiple locations. Gen. Robert Nabors, commander of the 5th Signal Command, said the VTC systems also allow users to share maps.

The V Corps system runs over tactical satellite links, while the U.S. Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communication System, an intelligence community VTC system, runs over Defense Information Systems Network circuits, allowing face-to-face conversations not only with personnel in the European theater but all the way back to the Pentagon.

Not only top commanders use the system. Once scheduled briefings for commanders are finished, the system keeps running as subordinates take a place in front of the screens and cameras to coordinate the delivery of supplies, manage transportation assets or look over electronically shared imagery. In between these conferences, IFOR commanders tap the power of the VTC systems for morale purposes: letting a father get a glimpse of a newborn baby or facilitating electronic family reunions.

According to Nabors, VTC systems are essential in Bosnia. "[A VTC system] used to be an option in operations," he asserted. "Now it has become an imperative, and it runs 24 hours a day."

But despite assertions that the technology is crucial to users, Nabors said video teleconferencing's bandwidth demand is a problem. He said he would like to offload video teleconferencing from his strained tactical circuits as quickly as possible.

Even so, Nabors said the technology played a key role when U.S. engineers had difficulty bridging the Sava River. He said the VTC system there kept commanders up to date on the progress with more immediacy than could have been provided by any other communications system.

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