Military Web portal helps US Navy officers stay networked

When Lt. Cmdr. Michael Crockett was promoted to executive officer of the guided missile destroyer USS Porter, he naturally sought advice from fellow officers on other ships. But he did not pick up the phone.

Crockett posted a query for "XO pearls of wisdom" on an Internet discussion list for Navy surface warfare officers (SWOs), the 10,000 junior officers who command a ship's sailors and lead them in combat. He received many responses, from words of encouragement to suggestions on how to streamline tasks.

The discussion list is just one feature of the Surface Warfare Officer Network, which debuted a year ago. SWONET is a Web portal where SWOs can receive counsel from colleagues stationed worldwide. They can air their gripes, obtain training documents, and stay in touch with family and friends.

"It's virtual mentoring," said Crockett, who reported to the Norfolk-based Porter a few months ago. "In this busy life we have, it's neat to be able to log on to something and when someone else has the time, they can give you some free advice." The site, most of which is off-limits to the public, appears to be a hit -- especially its discussion groups. There are 13,500 conversation threads like Crockett's on the site.

Since July 2001, traffic to the groups has jumped from 17,000 page views to 665,000 a year later, to 1.2 million by Nov. 1, said SWONET program manager Tom Hart, who works for Integic Corp., the Chantilly, Va.-based company that developed the site under contract with the Pentagon.

SWONET arose from the Navy's desire to find a better way to communicate with junior officers, said Lt. Cmdr. John Fuller, who manages SWONET as part of his Pentagon responsibilities overseeing the surface-warfare community.

"There's a lot of information that doesn't get out because ships are spread out," Fuller said. "There wasn't a dedicated forum like this before. This gives people the opportunity to talk about things outside the wardroom, outside the waterfront."

News source: The Washington Post

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