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Home Is as Close as SemperComm

Rewarding an ancient proverb: 'Necessity is the mother of invention.'

Springfield is a long way from remote bases in Afghanistan, Korea, Greenland and other non-front page hot spots were American military personnel are stationed. Many of those bases, and by definition, their personnel, are virtually cut off from family, friends and all the other familiarities of home — except by snail mail.

In more than 700 such remote bases around the globe that isolation can eat at not only the morale of those stationed there but also their basic psyche which can have a direct impact on their ability to accomplish their mission. Reducing that impairment is the mission of the SemperComm Foundation based at 6225 Brandon Ave. in Springfield.

On May 10, at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington the foundation will present its fourth annual awards program and silent auction honoring "deserving active-duty U.S. military personnel that go above and beyond the call of duty to help boost the morale of their fellow service members in remote locations." Nominations for those awards are due Monday, Feb. 26.

"The SemperComm Award recognizes the valuable contributions of military men and women based in out-of-the-way overseas locations where there often isn't much to do that could be considered recreational," said Lara Coffee, SemperComm executive director. "Keeping our uniformed personnel's morale high is essential to their well-being and their ability to stay focused on their jobs."

"Much like SemperComm itself, the men and women nominated for the award creatively find ways to entertain their units and provide diversions from the intensity of long military deployments. The award is our way of paying tribute to those who use their ingenuity and distinguish themselves by improving daily life for others," she said.

Last year's recipients included a team of National Guard members who built "the world's most dangerous regulation bocce ball court" while stationed in Iraq. Another winner was recognized for building a "Chaplain's Oasis Cafe" where military personnel could get food and refreshments, watch satellite television and enjoy an occasional movie or cigar night, according to Coffee.

A 501C3 NONPROFIT charity organization, the foundation is a member of "America Supports You," a U.S. Department of Defense program dedicated to recognizing the efforts of U.S. citizens who support troops at home and overseas. It is the only nonprofit U.S. military support organization that focuses entirely on small, remote overseas bases. As a general rule, those bases have a compliment of 75 personnel or less, according to Steve Rosa, media relations, SemperComm Foundation.

The Foundation ships out a complete package of goods and services called the SemperComm Suite to adopted bases. Those Suites contain computers, access to secure Internet communications sites with e-mail capabilities, televisions with a satellite dish, telephones and VOIP telephone service, DVD players, movies and video games.

"All these items enable the troops to stay connected back home. We feel that is very important for them to maintain that connectivity," Rosa said. SemperComm stands for "Always Communications" which is its primary goal.

Entertainment element also sends willing and supportive celebrity entertainers to those bases. That element is accomplished through one of SemperComm's partners Stars for Stripes.

In addition to Stars for Stripes, SemperComm also receives major support from Computer Systems Center Incorporated (CSCI), a defense-oriented software development company, and PC Recycler, an electronic recycling and services company that provides the bulk of the computer equipment sent to the bases. With only one full-time employee, Coffee, CSCI also provides support personnel to the foundation. Rosa, a full-time CSCI employee, is one of those individuals.

"CSCI started the foundation in 2004 because many of our employees are ex-military and wanted to recognizes personnel that are serving in those remote locations. The foundation, in effect, is a client to which we donate services," Rosa said.

"Most of the equipment distributed by the foundation is donated. We receive support from businesses, both large and small, individuals, as well as public support from celebrities and public officials," he said. All funding is through donations.

Each base currently costs approximately $125,000 to initially set-up plus an additional $65,000 per year to maintain, according to the Foundation. "While it is an expensive endeavor to undertake, our goal is to outfit every small remote base that needs our help," said Coffee, in her explanation of the organization.

WINNERS OF THE 2007 AWARDS will be determined by a panel of four retired military officers chosen based on their length of military service and their work with SemperComm. They will judge entrants on three criteria:

* Actions taken to boost the morale of fellow service members;

* Remoteness and size of the base where the nominee is stationed; and

* Desire to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Winners will be notified by Monday, March 12, and invited, at no cost, to attended the May 10 Gala with a guest. Their travel and lodging will be paid by SemperComm Foundation. Last year, the awards had five winners, according to Rosa.

All nominators, and one guest if they so desire, are also welcome to attend the Gala at the military rate of $125 per ticket. SemperComm requests that all award winners provide the following by April 2:

* A uniformed high resolution photo

* A short biography

* A designated home town - city and state

* Any media outlets they wish to have notified.