KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The Jungle Warfare Training Center conjures images of fighting forces blazing trails through thickets, avoiding deadly snakes while searching for the enemy.

The reality of life in northern Okinawa is a little less exciting. There are no exchanges or commissaries, no clubs or restaurants. The weekly visit by the barber almost qualifies as a recreational activity.

However, a recent $25,000 gift by a Washington, D.C., area-based defense contractor through the United Service Organizations is providing a bridge to the world beyond the jungle for the 30 to 75 personnel stationed at the training center. A private network now links personnel to family members and other registered guests around the globe, and within weeks a full satellite Internet connection should be ready to go live, said Steven Elliott, USO Okinawa director.

“The infrastructure doesn’t allow for high-speed DSL or ISDN,” Elliott said. “Satellite is the only way they can surf the Web, other than the Marine Corps Web site, which comes by microwave.”

The Internet by satellite isn’t cheap, with equipment and startup costs hovering around $15,000 and additional $600 charges for monthly access. CSCI, a company with several retired military on staff, will pay the bill. The company also has bought the base five new PCs, a server and 10 digital 8 mm movie players.

With CSCI’s help, in November communications chief Sgt. Jim Ferguson began administrating Semper Comm, a private network that lets servicemembers interact with their family members on bulletin boards. Servicemembers write about their day, while parents share slices of life at home, posting pictures of the family dog and talking about the 3 inches of snow on the ground.

Semper Comm has been a huge success, but the planned Internet service has Marines asking Ferguson every day about its launch date.

“It’ll be a huge morale boost,” Ferguson said. “Everybody has become really motivated.”

CSCI first called USO headquarters in April, asking if there was anything the company could do for servicemembers in isolated areas, Elliott said. Headquarters referred CSCI to Elliott, who asked the training center for a wish list. Elliott also considered the island Marine base off Okinawa at Ieshima, which may be the next to benefit from CSCI’s grants, he said.

CSCI also is planning a fund-raiser at the new Mandarin Oriental hotel in Washington, D.C., to raise funds for a new $250,000 USO moving canteen truck, complete with a stage, DVD screens and speakers.

CSCI’s contributions and interest in the servicemembers makes a big difference to troops in such an isolated area, Ferguson said. But living in isolation has made JWTC servicemembers a very resourceful bunch. They’ve converted an old tennis court into a roller hockey rink. They also enjoy jumping off a nearby bridge.

In other words, expect the Internet to become a big part of the entertainment mix at the Jungle Warfare Training Center.

“It brings a bit of the U.S. to us up in the jungle,” Ferguson said.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now