Home front: Bridging the distance between the battlefield and America

VMENow.com is an E-site dedicated to “all things VME”, and VME is the most common type of embedded platform used in deployed military systems. It’s not such a stretch to imagine the platforms where VME is helping our armed forces prosecute the GWOT: in submarines, F/A-18s, M1A1s and M1A2s, AWACS, Global Hawks, Strykers, TACCs, MACCs and iTACCs, and myriad other front-line systems.

But equipment aside, during this holiday season what about the men and women deployed in some remote village far from their families and loved ones? There’s a human side to technology too: and that’s the story of how the Internet, telecom, and computers can be used to keep critical contact with distant sailors, airmen, soldiers, Marines, and their huge cadre of military and civilian support personnel.

That’s why I’m breaking my own rule to include the following story about two Internet technologies that are helping to bridge the distance gap between the Middle East and CONUS. Though the following story has a bit of a “sales pitch” element to it – it’s easy to look past and instead see the faces and human interest side. These are two slightly off-topic examples of how technology is also helping us win the Global War on Terror. Afterall, wars are won by human beings, not by technology.
- Chris Ciufo, Editor

Front Line to Home Front

New Technologies Helping Military Families Stay in Touch this Holiday Season

This December marked the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The ensuing chaos of that event illustrated how difficult it was for servicemen and women to communicate with friends and family while on deployment. Letters to and from home could take months to arrive, if they arrived at all. And of course, e-mail, the Internet or cell phones were decades away from being invented. Thankfully, military personnel in today’s technically savvy world are able to communicate easily and more frequently with loved ones in more immediate, affordable, convenient and practical ways.

This holiday season, two publicly traded technology companies, Web.com and iBasis, are showing their thanks to U.S. armed forces personnel and their families by donating the latest in communication services.

Web.com, a leading destination for websites and Web services, is offering free websites for a year to the first 2,007 service members who sign up. Web.com’s Site Builder website publishing tool makes it easy for military families to create and manage personal, multi-page websites, with the ability to add photo albums, multimedia and blogs. These secure sites provide a “virtually home” experience and a communication portal through which families can easily stay in touch, view and post pictures and short videos and share daily experiences. This is all possible with little or no technical skills.

Lieutenant Duane Whitmer is a HS-4 helicopter pilot for the U.S. Navy. He uses his Web.com site to stay in touch with friends and family, including his wife, Jenn. The Whitmers were married in August 2003, and since that time Duane has been away on work-ups or deployment more than he’s been home. Using the website, the newlyweds have been able stay in touch in a way that would not be possible without the Site Builder technology.

“Having the ability to securely send e-mails and post images online provides a tremendously easy medium through which my wife and I can keep the lines of communication open,” said Whitmer. “We’re expecting our first child in February… a boy. It’s a good thing our website can grow as we do to support thousands of photos!”

David Prowell, a pilot in the Georgia Air National Guard with more 15-years of service, spends a good deal of time in the desert while on deployment and uses his secure website to keep friends and family up-to-date on how life is going.

“I’m a single parent of a precious little girl, Katey,” said Prowell. “She’s a second grader and has already started her first year of honors classes. Being able to share moments in our lives at times when we can’t be together means so much to us. Our website is so easy to use, we can both post photos anytime we like, and I can keep up with her latest cheerleading routines and action shots from soccer practice.”

Web.com’s Site Builder is built on patented technology and allows people to create websites without the knowledge of HTML or any website creation language. With point-and-click toolbars and dynamic text editing, building a site with Site Builder is akin to editing a Microsoft Word document – very simple and intuitive. Although thousands of miles separate troops from their families, these Web services provide near-instantaneous and reassuring contact. Since 1995, Web.com has helped more than 4 million individuals establish a secure online presence for a host of military personnel, consumers and small businesses.

Web.com hosted websites come complete with an individual domain, custom e-mail accounts, and more. Military service members and their families can sign up for the special promotion by calling (800) 338-0934.

Meanwhile, iBasis, a leading wholesale carrier of international long distance telephone calls, and owners of one of the most extensive Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) networks, recently donated more than $100,000 in free international calling to those stationed abroad to ease the cost of staying in touch with loved ones back home. iBasis’ Pingo service offers online prepaid calling that utilizes VoIP to provide phone service to hundreds of worldwide destinations for pennies a minute. With VoIP pricing and overall ease-of-use, Pingo has become popular among the military community and consumers with an “overseas connection.”

Evelyn Manzueta, whose fiancé is currently serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq, swears by the service. While she knows very little about the technology behind making calls over the Internet, and would never claim to be an expert, she is an expert on recognizing low prices and demands reliable, convenient phone service. After all, nothing is going to keep her from speaking with her fiancé.

“I discovered Pingo shortly after my fiancé arrived in Baghdad,” said Evelyn Manzueta of Brooklyn, who uses the VoIP calling service to speak with Joel Reyes, a Specialist (E4) with the 210th Battalion Support Brigade, Alpha Company. “I tried calling cards, and even though the rates were low, it was frustrating to constantly punch in PIN and access numbers, especially when a call would suddenly cut-out during a conversation. With Pingo, I pick up my phone, dial my fiancés phone number and we’re talking — it’s simple and reliable.”

Pingo can be purchased via credit card or PayPal® from its multi-lingual website, where customers can also manage their accounts. Unlike other VoIP-based service providers, existing fixed-line and mobile phones can be used; and no additional equipment or installation is required. Consumers aren’t locked into confusing plans or blocks of minutes, nor do they have to run out and buy additional calling cards. And, because Pingo is managed online, customers can take advantage of conveniences that include automatic account recharge and the ability to bypass PIN sign-in from up to 10 different phones.

The ability to share the joy that this time of year brings has certainly changed for our military families since 1941. No matter how great the distance or remote the location, the technology advancements are helping to illuminate the world today’s troops, with immediate access to a comforting voice or image, even in the darkest of places.