Cisco System Engineers Help Veterans’ Families Stay Connected
Pete Sawyer is a systems engineer at Cisco. He’s a military veteran, having served seven years in the United States Army. He’s also a global problem solver, using decades of military and IT experience to make a difference in his local community.
Through his volunteer work with the Fisher House Foundation, Pete is ensuring veterans’ families stay connected while their loved ones receive necessary medical treatment.
“I’ve always been involved with the military and appreciate what veterans do for us, the sacrifices they make,” he said. “It’s good to have the ability to give back to them. I saw this opportunity and knew I wanted to get involved.”
The Fisher House Foundation is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the lives of military families. Since its inception in 1990, it has served more than 307,000 families, most notably through the building of Fisher Houses. These 72 homes offer families free lodging near military and Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers.
Each Fisher House has up to 21 suites and provides all the comforts of home: a kitchen, laundry facilities, a warm dining room, and an inviting living room. For those traveling and staying in an unfamiliar location, these simple amenities can ease the stress of the unfortunate situation. But in today’s digital world, where connectivity is a vital part of our lives, an Internet connection can make all the difference.
Brian Gawne, the Fisher House Foundation’s VP for Community Relations, discovered five years ago just how valuable a reliable Wi-Fi network can be. “Our first priority is taking care of families, and the people who run the homes are experienced in things like social care and lodging,” he said. “They’re not IT experts, and we soon realized we needed a network on steroids to support all of our families.”
By chance, a representative from Cisco’s Veteran’s Program emailed Brian in 2012 with a simple question: “How can we help?”
“Before we started installing equipment, house managers often took a trip to Best Buy, bought routers and repeaters, and set up the networks on their own,” Pete said. These configurations are often spotty and outdated, leaving family members in the dark in homes that are built to the highest military standards. “Our homes are built so well that sometimes, even cell phones can’t get an indoor signal,” Brian remarked.
Shortly after receiving the email, Brian spoke with the representative and filled out a technology grant application. Local employee volunteers in San Antonio, Texas were soon on-site at the newly-built home, installing a network with the capability to meet every resident’s needs. Since then, employee volunteers like Pete have donated and installed equipment at dozens of Fisher Homes.
With support from Cisco’s Veterans Enablement and Troop Support Employee Resources Organization (VETS ERO); Charles Washington, Baron Rawlins, Andre Winkfield, and volunteers from the Army Enterprise Region Systems Engineering team; Pete has developed a standard equipment bundle and install process, which can be implemented at any Fisher Home not outfitted by the Department of Defense (DOD) or VA.
When Brian reaches out to Pete with plans for a new build, initiating the installation is as simple as opening a request with one of Cisco’s Meraki equipment distributors and delivering the gear.
“We provide the solution to the homes and offer installation services for free,” Pete said. “I volunteer to do that, and once I’ve finished the installation, I give the house manager some over-the-shoulder training and knowledge transfer before leaving it for them.”
Pete’s most recent installations include homes in Ft. Bragg, Las Vegas, Tuscon, Portland, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where networks connect more than 750 distinct users. And it’s in homes like these where Brian says reliable Internet connections are making a huge difference for families.
“There’s something so powerful about being able to communicate to other family members and keeping folks up to date,” he says. “Even something like Facebook access gives them peace of mind and escapism while they’ve got the angst of one in a hospital.”
To date, Pete says none of the equipment has failed, ensuring families in Cisco-supported homes are always connected. With more than 12 homes planned for construction or opening in the next two years, there’s an even greater opportunity for Cisco employees and volunteers to get involved and become global problem solvers for veterans and their families.
“With Cisco’s support, we’ve received equipment, free installations, and the valuable time of employees on-site,” Brian said.