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NEWS | July 18, 2019

Video chat technology transforms ACS, fosters readiness

By Ms. Jacqueline Boucher

The Army Community Services (ACS) lifeline between Tobyhanna Army Depot and Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, went live earlier this summer rebooting a series of programs lost to budget cuts in 2017.

The inventive workaround, developed by depot experts, gives eligible personnel stationed at Picatinny easy access to services more than a year after Army ACS ceased operations. Point to point video chat technology is making it possible for military and family members to meet face-to-face with ACS program managers at Tobyhanna, though miles separate them. 

"It's often the emotionally charged situation that causes an individual to reach out to ACS for assistance," said Andrew Ciccolella, Picatinny Morale, Welfare and Recreation director. "There is something so personal about a video call versus a phone call. Callers can see they have the manager's undivided attention and are able to put a face to the name."

In a few minutes, customers can live chat with a subject matter expert at Tobyhanna by following easy to understand prompts on a computer monitor. The non-CAC (common access card) enabled system in the Picatinny ACS office is connected to three workstations in the Installation Services Directorate's Army Community Services Branch. The plan is to have the entire staff equipped to support the new way of doing business by 2020. 

"Soldiers and their families are going to find this new way of doing things very helpful," said Staff Sgt. Edward Morris, religious affairs noncommissioned officer at Picatinny. "Spouses who don't have common access cards no longer need to rely on the service member to take advantage of the various ACS programs. This is significant, especially when a Soldier deploys." 

Picatinny and Tobyhanna officials were able to restore ACS programs at the arsenal by implementing a hub and spoke type of network last year. Operating as a regional hub, Tobyhanna helped Picatinny expand their support services from one-day-a-week visits conducted by a depot staff member to a functional, on-site office featuring state-of-the-art equipment and staffed with an ACS specialist. 

ACS Specialist Isabelle Yaroch makes sure necessary documents are available, directs customers to the right people, and schedules meetings or classes. She also oversees the volunteer program for Tobyhanna and Picatinny. 

"I'm thrilled to be a part of this new way of doing business," Yaroch said. "My job is to take care of the community, so the warfighter can focus on the mission."

The idea to leverage technology was born from a desire to improve the quality of life for military members and their families. The ability to video chat with trained professionals who are miles away is just the first step toward creating a new normal for the Army's ACS mission. 

Plans for this technology includes offering virtual training classes on how to write a resume, apply for a government job or manage personal finances. All classes offered at Tobyhanna will be taught at Picatinny once the capability is developed, according to Lisa Crews, Army Community Services Branch chief at Tobyhanna. 

"It's possible to build on the hub and spoke network by partnering with other installations facing the same issues as Picatinny," Crews said. "Picatinny and Tobyhanna were successful because of the strength of teamwork."