Perched atop one of downtown Springfield's tallest buildings, the employees of Computer Systems Center Incorporated (CSCI) are creating the future of long-distance communication between military personnel and their families.
CSCI, is the home of a technology that allows the company to offer a secure means of communication for troops stationed at a remote military base in Japan.
"It’s like sitting at the family dinner table, where everybody’s sharing everything," said Linda LaRoche, CEO of CSCI, which recently unveiled the SemperComm Foundation. The nonprofit arm of CSCI, SemperComm is a partnership with United Service Organization (USO), which allows troops stationed at various remote military bases overseas to have secure, private communication with their friends and family back home.
"What we’re providing for them is that free space, whether it be with us or their family," said LaRoche. "You can send anybody a movie projector, but I think part of it is a touch back home, somebody that can share, ‘Wow, you guys are eating hamburgers. ... What did you have for Thanksgiving dinner?'”
SemperComm utilizes the Trusted Information Infrastructure (TII) technological environment, developed by CSCI, to allow for the secure transfer of information between secure networks.
While the TII environment was originally developed for intra-office security, LaRoche said since the majority of the 150 employees of CSCI are former military members, reaching out to military personnel overseas quickly became a priority.
"It was easy to find the match, from an employee relations perspective, to reach out and touch people who have similar backgrounds," she said.
So CSCI fronted the funds necessary to get the program up and running and chose the Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC) in Okinawa, Japan, as its first target.
"We felt with the numbers they had there, that we as a small company could connect with 75 people. We felt like we could adopt them," said Lara Anderson, marketing and communications director for CSCI and SemperComm. "They’re another extension of us. They’re part of the family."
THE JWTC is located in the jungles of Japan, at a remote location. While participants in the training program rotate through the site in shorter terms, instructors at the JWTC serve in two-year increments and are often separated from their families for that time. Having a connection to home was important.
"It's really isolated. Stamps are still used, letters, envelopes. It's basically the only way to communicate," said CSCI employee Nick Woodard of Stafford, who was stationed at the JWTC for nearly eight months when he served in the Marine Corps. "It's pretty exciting for me, hearing what CSCI has been involved in, bringing good communication to the Marines who are stationed out there," he said.
According to Woodard, the base contains only a handful of buildings and "nothing but jungle" in most directions surrounding the base. Although he hasn't had direct contact with the Marines affected by the SemperComm program, he knows they appreciate it.
"It’s like logging on to the Internet, only we provide them an area to have private communication," said LaRoche. "We’ve given them their own little compartment, an opportunity to share their photos, and have chats of their own."
Those who are stationed at the JWTC have already expressed their gratitude for the program.
"SemperComm has given us … someone to talk to when we feel there is nowhere else to turn, and we cannot get ahold of our families … I personally have made quite a few new friends just sending messages via SemperComm," said Lance Cpl. Jean M. Karr, who is currently stationed at the JWTC.
" Life can get pretty boring out here in the jungle and they have made life out here a whole lot better," said PFC Aaron R. Mastro.
CSCI was started in 1987 by LaRoche and business partner Joe Link, who both desired to break away from their current surroundings for Washington, D.C.-area companies.
"You don’t get recognized for out-of-the-box thinking when you’re stuck in a large organization with a lot of structure," said LaRoche, a resident of Springfield for 25 years. "We decided we wanted to do something that would make a difference."
The strength of CSCI, said LaRoche, is it encourages free thinking on the part of its employees, who do mainly research and development work for government contracts as defense system analysts, operations researchers, engineering technology developers, requirements analysts and systems architects and designers.
The company began the gradual move away from Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s, and in 1996 it moved into its current space in offices on Brandon Avenue overlooking the Mixing Bowl. The company currently occupies the entire fourth and fifth floors.
"When we interview our candidates, we tell them, ‘If you know of something you really want to do, we want you to pursue that,'" said LaRoche. "I find that leadership is easy when people are motivated."
While the SemperComm program is in its formative stages, LaRoche said the company hopes to expand to other similar-sized bases around the globe.
"We have had interest in offering this to other people in remote locations," she said.
CSCI will host its inaugural fund-raiser for the SemperComm program, in conjunction with the USO, on April 6 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, in Washington, D.C. The event, which will include a silent auction, will help to raise money for the foundation and for a mobile canteen to reach the JWTC in Japan.
"We were just fortunate enough to find this match, and I think it’s worked out very well," said LaRoche.