By Justin EimersSeptember 22, 2011
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa., Sept. 22, 2011 -- Despite harsh weather and unique working conditions, four employees here completed installation of language laboratories in Taji and Ar Rustamiyah, Iraq, that will help Iraqis learn English.
Jerome Demeck, Frank Jones, John Nemeth and Rich Ondrako successfully finished two Training Multimedia Language Laboratory, or TMLL, installations in August. Jerome Demeck is chief of the depot's Electrical Cable Support Branch; Jones is an electronics mechanic in the Computer Service and Repair Branch.
The crew encountered multiple power issues during their two-week mission. On the work site in Taji, hours of operation were limited from 9 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5 p.m. The team worked during these hours because that was the only times electricity was available.
Ondrako, an electrician in the depot's Electrical Cable Support Branch, says the group often had to take work from the site back 'home' with them to the base at which they were staying.
There are three language lab configurations - analog, digital and resource center.
The analog language laboratory is an audio active language laboratory that allows a student to hear a program via a headphone and to respond using the microphone.
The digital version, like the labs just established in Iraq, is a digital multimedia language laboratory, which contains application software programmed specifically for language learning in a structured classroom environment.
The resource center laboratory is configured as a local area network, which may be used as a single user personal computer lab allowing for group or independent learning.
"The furniture is modular in design, which allowed us to map out the layout and arrangement of the lab without being on-site," said Ondrako. This also made up for lost time when the crew was unable to continue working in the absence of power at the site in Ar Rustamiyah.
Nemeth, an electronics technician in the depot's Computer Service and Repair Branch, was the team leader for both installations. He says safety was the main concern during the entire mission, especially when temperatures rose to above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
A second problem with power occurred at Ar Rustamiyah when a generator, the main source of power for the work site, ran out of fuel. On July 26, Iraqis left the building that housed the language lab to observe the Ramadan holiday and could not maintain the generator. British military personnel worked for three hours that afternoon to start the generator but were unsuccessful, forcing the installation team to postpone work until the next morning.
"The British worked really hard to get us power," said Nemeth. "We assessed the situation as a group and decided to stop for the day and take whatever work we could back with us to the base."
The British tried to start the generator again the next morning, but rising temperatures battled the crew, resulting in another work stoppage.
"We worked by flashlight for a few hours, but the room had no windows and was extremely hot by 9:30 a.m," Nemeth said. "I had to call it off for the morning to protect our guys." Again, the crew prepared to pack up and work on what they could away from the work site.
With the help of Iraqi engineers, British personnel were able to start the generator around 11 a.m. the next day, allowing the install team to stay on-site and complete the day's work.
During difficult situations like this, when the group had to make the best with what they were given, respect and a mutual understanding of one another are what helped the crew succeed.
"We're like brothers when we're out there [in the field]," said Nemeth, who has worked with Ondrako for six and a half years and Jones for over seven. "Whenever we come across a problem we can work together, calm each other down and play off of each other's strengths. Everyone brings in a wide range of expertise and past experiences that builds knowledge for the future."
Ondrako remarked that this sort of group dynamic is what allows the team to overcome whatever problems may arise.
"It's not your everyday function," he said. "When things don't go right you try to say to each other, 'okay let's keep our heads cool, let's not get nervous.' You can imagine what our troops are going through."
The labs now in Taji and Ar Rustamiyah meet all training requirements established by the Defense Language Institute-English Language Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
Each lab consists of 25 to 30 student carrels, small enclosures designed for privacy in studying and using the interactive materials.
Stephen Pesta, training instructor in the depot's Readiness Training Division, has been part of the TMLL program since its inception and traveled to Iraq earlier this year for an install. Pesta is responsible for conducting training on the TMLL software once the labs have been completed. He can use various equipment and formats, such as videocassette tape, compact disc, digital videodisc or audiocassette tape, to interface with the students.
"The analog/digital labs let the instructors and I monitor students' computer work on the instructor console screen using the keyboard and mouse control," Pesta said.
It can also send the instructor's screen to all or a designated group of students, and model a student's screen to all or a designated group. The student's computers can be controlled from the instructor's console.
Personnel from Tobyhanna have been assisted by various forces throughout the TMLL program, dating back to the first install in 2003. For this mission, British, Polish and Iraqi forces provided assistance in Ar Rustamiyah. In Taji, the U.S. Air Force 821st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron provided security and assistance.
The most recent mission brings the total of TMLL systems to 108, installed in countries around the world. Tobyhanna Army Depot has also sent an additional 213 TMLL systems in various configurations that were sent directly to the customer for installation.
"The program is getting larger and receiving more recognition," Pesta said. "When it first started [after 9/11], it was very much under the radar. Now that the depot's name is out there and forces have seen the work we do and how we do it, more and more language labs are being manufactured and installed. It's truly been a great and rewarding experience."
"A lot of what we do with the program wouldn't be possible without many other people who are involved at the depot," Pesta noted.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces. About 5,600 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Tobyhanna is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.