Imagine having to coordinate
a mission across 16 time zones with as many as 25 different countries and an
even greater number of languages. At the same time, state and terrorist
organizations are trying to stop you from moving at every turn.
Now coordinate that
mission without being able to meet your teammates in person, travel or see the
This is the curveball
COVID-19 threw at U.S. Special Operations Command’s international operations
“We were faced with a
situation where the standard telework tools did not meet our requirements. We
needed a capability that was accessible by our partners around the world that
also worked for our international partner’s here in Tampa,” said U.S. Army Col.
Harold Miller, SOCOM’s International Operations Branch Chief.
Like many businesses
across the U.S., SOCOM’s international team had to quickly find encrypted
systems allowing them to securely connect with their partners virtually. But
unlike some of those businesses, SOCOM’s international team comprises 25 different
countries across the globe and various time zones that need to connect at the
same time. It took a little flexibility, but not much time to find a platform
helping SOCOM’s international team learn to hit the COVID-19 curveball, Miller
“Fortunately, we had
experience using the Defense Department’s All Partners Access Network (APAN).
Noah Schmiedecke, SOCOM’s International Operations Branch Information
Technology Planner, was very familiar with APAN and was able to adapt it very
quickly helping us continue to connect with our partners while COVID was
beginning. Noah is the unsung hero of SOCOM’s APAN success and flexibility.”
Schmiedecke built more
than 50 new sites for APAN to support U.S. and partner nations responding to
the virus. These include NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters, SOCOM’s
network of international SOF partners, SOCOM’s components and organizations in
other combatant commands.
Multiple countries saw
effects on their units. One used APAN to connect deploying troops with families
prior to deploying to Afghanistan for Operation Resolute Support.
to the COVID-19 situation in my country, our family care events are virtual
instead of the usual weekend gatherings,” said a partner country’s special
operations liaison officer assigned to SOCOM. “The international operations
team here created a tailored APAN portal allowing us to have video teleconferences,
share files and chat. They also trained us to host the event and troubleshoot errors.”
event had a positive effect on morale prior to heading to Afghanistan, the
officer said. Overall, the virtual event brought 120 family members together over
eight hours allowing deploying troops, families and unit leadership to connect
prior to leaving home.
need to connect virtually and across continents during COVID-19 extends beyond
just those heading to traditional deployment locations like Afghanistan.
SOCOM has 25 partner
nations with fulltime representatives on MacDill Air Force Base. COVID-19
forced many of the U.S. and partner forces to telework, making it harder to
connect to the infrastructure needed to link with partners without liaisons at
MacDill. SOCOM could still connect with partners, but it took longer with
members having to socially isolate due to the virus. They looked to APAN to
provide a faster solution.
The Defense Department’s
APAN system came on line in Hawaii in 2001. The original goal was to support
connectivity with partners in the Indo-Pacific. Since then, APAN has proved its
value in supporting connectivity with US allies and partners all over the
APAN is web based and
doesn’t require the standard hardware issued traditionally to U.S. forces and
partners. The program is free to use, only requires an internet connection and
offers full encryption at a level similar to most modern credit card companies.
Most significantly during COVID-19, it can be used by those using Windows and
Mac-based computers while teleworking away from DoD facilities.
This flexibility helped
the international team and their partners continue to connect despite not being
able to travel or meet in person.
Since harnessing the
full use of APAN, SOCOM’s international team has routinely held meetings with
up to 155 people simultaneously ranging from the Indo-Pacific, the Americas and
Brazil is the newest
member of SOCOM’s international team. Capt. Alan DaSilva has been at MacDill
about a year and a half. Prior to COVID-19’s arrival, the international team
had APAN, but used other services to communicate. DaSilva said he’s noticed
“I started seeing APAN as a more useful tool which could
save a lot of money replacing trips for meetings in person. It’s really helped
us to continue communicating while COVID-19 has prevented us from reaching out
in traditional ways.”
Sgt. Maj. Radek Vadjecka
from the Czech Republic has served as the international operations branch’s
senior enlisted advisor the last two years. He said, “Investment in development of APAN turned out to be an
excellent option for communication with the international community during
COVID-19 days. It has helped us stay connected with our militaries around the
world. The challenges our partners faced prior to COVID-19 did not go away
because of the virus, so finding additional ways to continue working together
is vital so we can keep addressing those threats.”
Miller said the team
has supported development of more than 50 new APAN sites for the global SOF
community since March. The organizations come from countries on at least three
continents. Specific countries are not named for security reasons.
A worldwide virus largely
shut down regional economies, international travel and forced millions of
people to remain in their homes. Given this environment, SOCOM’s international
team adapted and found ways to continue the mission and by virtually linking
with partners in real time. Miller said the flexibility and availability of
APAN has actually increased their ability to coordinate, respond to crisis and
function in the long run.
“From the outset of COVID-19,
we knew communication and transparency with our SOF partners were going to be
key,” Miller said. “The technology was important, but as we say in SOF, people
are more important than hardware. Teammates like Noah Schmeidecke and Sgt. Maj.
Vadjecka were able to adapt APAN to meet the needs of a broad international SOF
community. We and our partners know what’s on the line: 330 million Americans
and the millions of residents in our 25 partner nations and growing are
depending on our teamwork and continued success.”