September 10, 2004

Marines still need a few good parts

Author: Joe Barr

Following up on an earlier NewsForge story, we recently exchanged email with LT. Phil Geiger -- medical officer with the Third Batallion, Sixth Marines in Iraq -- about the current status of their efforts to establish an unofficial wireless network to allow Marines to communicate more often and more easily with friends and families. This self-help project -- with volunteer assistance -- is now operational, but the Marines could use more assistance.

We asked Geiger for an update on how the project was doing. He had told us earlier that the dish was operational and that they had one access point and one VOIP phone working. Here's his reply on the latest:

So far so good. I'm still in <DELETED> for a couple more days, but everything I've heard has been positive. No panicky tech-support emails from the guy in charge while I'm gone, anyway. :-)"

Still just the one 3Com 7250 access point, and it seems that the external antenna for it never showed up. We're missing it, four PC Cards, and a 16-port rackmount switch, so it appears a box got lost or delayed in shipping. Right now we've got one hotspot with about 150 feet of coverage.

The other three APs and antennas were mistakenly delivered to me in <DELETED>,
so they'll be set up the day I get to <DELETED>.

The four Tropos APs should be shipped to us today or tomorrow. Those
are the beasts that will really give us good coverage.

One phone line is working. I'm talking with Net2Phone about the best
way to make the other three lines cheap "public access" phones. I'd like
to avoid forcing Marines to buy $10 or $25 calling cards, but all of
the flat-rate plans explicitly say they're for an individual or family,
not a horde of 600+ Marines.

N2P just offered to donate an 802.11b phone, so I'm hopeful they can
come up with a plan that's simple and cheap for the other lines. :-)

We also asked what sort of donations might be useful. Geiger said:

Small things
- PC Card adapters, 802.11b or g
- a 3Com 8dBi omnidirectional antenna (3CWE491), since the one we bought
never arrived

Larger things
- Whole computers for the MWR tent; we have two computers but could always
use more

And of course, cash donations of any size through our PayPal account.
Our bandwidth is paid for through the first week of December, but extra
funds would allow me to buy minutes for the phones and avoid having to
pass the charge on to Marines and corpsmen.

In the very long term, there are some items we're looking at for Iraq
next year, but definitely NOT needed now:

1. We'd like to get a non-penetrating mount that can support the dish
(needs a post with 4.5-inch outside diameter), along the lines of this from Satcom.
Here, we found a water pipe buried in some weeds, cut it to size with
a hacksaw, and anchored it in concrete, but we'll probably need something
more portable for Iraq. Something that can be disassembled, packed,
moved, reassembled, and anchored with sandbags for ballast would be perfect.

2. Some kind of rackmount case for mounting and protecting the hardware,
with about 6-8U of space, like this from Beacon Worldwide,

3. Money to pay for bandwidth in Iraq.

Anything you or your readers can contribute in any of these areas would
be fantastic.

Thanks

Phil

If you would like to lend a hand in the form of a cash donation, you can do so via PayPal by sending it to paypal@36dish.com. Hardware donations
can be mailed directly to:

LT. Phillip Geiger
Third Battalion Sixth Marines
H&S Company 73290
FPO AE 09510-3290

Tropos Networks is providing assistance for the 3/6 Marines and collecting donations for a similar project to include all service personnel in Iraq at a site called UnwireIraq. You can also make donations there.

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