By Sgt. Cheryl Cox, 1st Cavalry Division Public AffairsJanuary 10, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas - Viewed more than a million times, it continues to bring families and Soldiers together by spreading information.
Since the 1st Cavalry Division deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the summer of 2006, the website has been an invaluable resource to First Team Soldiers and family members.
"I think the most important way we use the web is to pass "hot" information to Families. We use it to spread good information...and that prevents rumors," said Col. Larry Phelps, the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division rear detachment.
"We have been able to widen the circle of Town Hall participation to a world wide audience. I met a mom at a Welcome Home ceremony last week, and she lives in Italy. She watched the Town Hall ceremony every month faithfully, and kept informed that way.
"Another key to the web is that it allowed us to include extended families, (moms, dads, grandparents, friends, communities) in the flow of information, something we listed as an objective for this rotation and something the web enabled us to do," Phelps said.
While there were changes in webmasters and appearance during the deployment, the webmaster who redesigned the site to how it looks today was Tiffany Nix, who has been the division's webmaster for the past 11 months.
Many of these changes were not just cosmetic - they have improved the ability of families to stay informed regardless of their location.
"We have made information readily accessible to the families through RSS Feeds, the hot topic area and by having links to pertinent information on the home page," said Nix.
"The site is easier to navigate which makes it much easier on the user, especially if they do not have a lot of web browsing experience. Having the publications as buttons on the menu makes it easier for the families to get to these whereas on the old site they had to be on the home page to access the links to the first team publications."
Although the website continues to be improved and is viewed by thousands of family member everyday, it is also used to maintain the flow of information from Iraq.
When things happen within the units or the division as a whole the families want to know... and they want to know now.
"It has taken down the geographical separation between families who live here in Central Texas and families living elsewhere. Every day I meet families who have kept in touch and kept informed through the magic of the web," explained Phelps. "It is, simply put, "virtual CAV"...and a Godsend for families who can't physically be here. All families are important, and this better allows us to touch those not close by."
As the deployment comes to an end and the 1st Cav Troopers march across Cooper Field almost daily, the website is still being used to pass information to the families.
"As the flights are scheduled for the Soldiers to come home, the ceremony times are posted on the website," said Nix. "The Returning Heroes Information link on the main page has all the information the families need for attending the ceremonies - to include time and date, directions and instructions on how to get to the ceremony field."
One of the most important factors in making the website family-friendly has been the input from the families.
"We have solicited family feedback and implemented their suggestions. We made the pull-down menus more 'intuitive'...we have posted topics they are interested in," explained Phelps. "We have done our best to keep the information fresh and easy to get to. In the 1st CAV, we had a saying on Rear Detachment... 'Keep informed, Keep in touch, Keep the faith'. I think this website has improved families' ability to do all three."
When asked, the webmaster was nothing but humble and gracious about all the hard work she had done.
"I am more than honored to be a part of the First Team and to be able to put my skills to use in a place that needs it most," she said. "What I do is only an ounce of my gratitude to the Soldiers and their families for the sacrifice they make."
Phelps ended his interview with one final thought about the webmaster and this milestone in Cav history.
"This is a tribute to all of the hard work by the public affairs staff, both forward and rear, and to all of the Rear Detachment folks that work so hard to provide feedback and information. And it proves my contention that we have the best webmaster in the world!
"It does us all a lot of good to know Families can rely on this great website," Phelps said.