Navy's SWONET links shipboard junior officers to the online world

Navy's SWONET links shipboard junior officers to the online world

BY DAWN S. ONLEY | GCN STAFF

Sailors get lonely stationed aboard ship thousands of miles from home, which is one reason the Navy suspects it has a tough time retaining junior surface warfare officers.

But Navy officials hope a new Web portal will improve the quality of life for homesick junior officers worldwide. This virtual community, known as the Surface Warfare Officers Network or SWONET, will put officers in contact with a wide range of information, from hometown news and educational opportunities to classified ads and career counseling.

The officers can e-mail colleagues or send their duty preferences via the Internet. They can participate in public or private chat sessions and download course material from military schools. The portal supplies just what they've been asking for, said Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Negus, who works for the director of surface warfare in the Manpower, Personnel and Training Department. Months before the Navy launched SWONET, the service showed the portal's capabilities to officers in Norfolk, Va.; San Diego and Newport, R.I.

'This is a quality-of-life service initiative for surface warfare officers,' Negus said. 'This will help make their professional life better.'

Integic Corp. of Chantilly, Va., built and runs SWONET for the Navy. Integic has 15 servers supporting the portal, which became operational in January. The Navy estimates that more than 8,000 officers use SWONET.

'Now, rather than wasting time surfing the Web, an officer can have content awaiting him or her at a personalized SWONET portal. In addition, Navy-related information has been categorized and organized in order to improve access to information,' said Norman Hubbs, vice president of Integic's electronic-government practice. 'While the officer attends to shipboard duties, SWONET is constantly collecting information and delivering it to the private SWONET portal.'

Public access

Negus said it will cost the Navy about $2 million a year to maintain the site, which also includes a public side at www.swonet.com, where visitors can learn about the life and mission of a surface warfare officer.

One benefit of the portal is that it provides officers with 'a lot of information in a very lightweight manner,' said Jim Fraley, Integic's SWONET program manager. Bandwidth is extremely limited on ships, requiring streamlined information, he said.

'These guys know the information exists,' Fraley said. 'They get frustrated because if you go out on the Web and try to find the information yourself, it's hard to find.'

SWONET information is concentrated for a ship's limited bandwidth. Take, for instance, the guidebooks given to officers when they attend the Naval Surface Warfare Officers School in Rhode Island. Over many transfers, officers often misplace the books. On SWONET, Integic has re-created the books electronically so officers can download the instructional material.

Integic has partnered with Columbia Research Corp. of Arlington, Va., to help develop and manage the portal's content, Fraley said.

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