Technology Helps Soldiers Stay Close to Loved Ones

By Pfc. Benjamin Gable, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq, Feb. 10, 2007 - "Snail mail" is quickly becoming a thing of the past for deployed soldiers thanks to the 1st Cavalry Division's commitment to keeping families close through video teleconferences.

"The guys love using the VTC capabilities here, and we stay busy all the time," said Army Staff Sgt. David Beach, a cable system installer with Headquarters, Headquarters Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, and noncommissioned officer in charge of the division's VTC program.

VTC isn't new to Iraq. The 1st Cavalry Division furnished the capability in Operation Iraqi Freedom II, almost four years ago. It is used for operational purposes, Family Readiness Group meetings by the command, and to keep soldiers in contact with loved ones back home. Before this option was available, soldiers were forced to wait one to two weeks for a letter in the mail or wait in long lines to use phones.

Though not new, improvements in technology have made VTC operations better.

"Everything is better this time around," said Sgt. Michael Cooper, a common ground station operator with the division's headquarters.

"Now we have a reliable Internet, cell phones and we can sign up to use the VTC to see our friends and family back home," added the Killeen, Texas native. "This is a great benefit for all deployed soldiers."

Using the VTC is simple. It's available to any soldier assigned or attached to a 1st Cavalry Division unit. After a soldier informs his chain of command, arrangements are made with the family in the rear, and a time and date are set. There is typically a short waiting period to allow coordination with the rear detachment. Then, when the time comes, a soldier simply shows up at the division main headquarters between the hours of 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. Each soldier gets 15 minutes to speak with loved ones in the "Stetson Room."

"This is an important tool for soldiers because it builds more morale when they can actually see their loved ones instead of just speaking with them over phone or Internet," said Beach, a native of Chickamauga, Ga.

The program has been a popular one, Beach said. The division main is averaging 40 VTCs a month. Holidays are the busiest times, he added.

Soldiers and family members benefit from the program. "Last time I was deployed I didn't talk to my family for eight months," said Army Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Antley, a military intelligence analyst from Orangeburg, S.C., assigned to the division headquarters.

"Being able to see my wife and children now keeps me motivated and ready to get back in the fight. They also get a chance to see me and know I am doing fine," he added.

Antley said he will continue to use the program throughout the year, making this deployment to Iraq better than his last.

(Army Pfc. Benjamin Gable is assigned to the 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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