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News | June 17, 2020

Virtual Communication Mitigates COVID-19 Risk for Task Force Marines

By 1st Lt. Heather Chairez, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South

U.S. Marines and Sailors with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Southern Command have adapted to new methods to ensure they are maintaining readiness and communication with the force, all while socially distancing for COVID-19 precautions.

Along with using face masks, continuously cleaning their workspaces, and holding team meetings at a safe distance from one another, the force has also turned to virtual communications for briefs and conferences. The task force began using Microsoft Teams, a platform already used across the Department of Defense.

Members of SPMAGTF-SC, primarily made up of reserve Marines and Sailors, bring with them their professional expertise to ensure a smooth transition into digital communications.

“I used my civilian job as a network engineer to help train the communication team of SPMAGTF-SC with the use of the new platform,” said Master Sgt. Jesus Torres, El Salvador liaison officer of SPMAGTF-SC.

The Marines and Sailors of the task force are currently preparing for an upcoming deployment to the Latin American and Caribbean region to serve as a crisis response force in the face of hurricane season. However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the service members have had to adjust their training and planning efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus.

The members of the task force, who are from various units across the U.S., bring with them skillsets and degrees from their civilian jobs that provide diverse and in-depth communications experience to the SPMAGTF-SC, said Maj. Sean Kenney, communications officer of SPMAGTF-SC.

“My experience with troubleshooting in the communication and data field have assisted to support the task and mission completion of establishing the platform capability,” said Torres.

Torres also said Microsoft Teams will help members transition easily from predeployment training to in-country operations, allowing flexibility for key information to be shared on multiple network domains within SPMAGTF-SC.

In order to prepare for their upcoming mission, the SPMAGTF-SC have adapted to their virtual communication platform using it for direct messaging, phone calls, video chats and conferences, screen sharing, shared calendars and SharePoint integration, which all helps protect the health of the force while maintaining readiness.

“Marines and Sailors are able to replace in-person meetings with a virtual video chat,” said Kenney. “The SPMAGTF-SC has 100 operators that are active on a daily basis, ensuring that we remain socially distant, while maintaining daily operations.”

During their deployment to the U.S. Southern Command area of operations, the task force will work side-by-side with partner nation militaries, increasing the multinational team’s overall readiness to respond to crises and humanitarian missions throughout the region.