Increased use of internet by U.S. army turns wars into pockets

09:02, June 30, 2010      

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As the July 4 Independence Day draws near, U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan can all have their chances to "unite" with their families, but only through Skype, Facebook and other social networks.

As television brought the U.S. War in Vietnam into the living rooms of American families, internet has brought the current U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iran into the pockets of Americans.

U.S. soldiers can see and communicate with their wives and babies through Skype, Facebook, have conversations with their family members with cell phones, send text messages and anything the new telecommunication technology has enabled them to do.

Sgt. Willard Ramseur, a U.S. Air Force reservist based at March Air Reserve Base, told the press that it is good to have visual communication with his wife and baby through Skype.

It is reported by the U.S. media that soldiers can communicate with their families very often, and even personnel on remote front lines often can touch base every week or two with a cell phone call or an e-mail, a Twitter feed, a text or a conversation via Skype.

The social networking site Facebook has burgeoned as a venue for communication in the past year, not only between soldiers and their families but between military bases and their personnel.

The military said Skype-equipped free computer terminals have been set up all over some military bases, including the laundry and the chapel. The technology also allowed them to show their loved ones back home the base or their rooms.

Along with the increased use of new technology, online communities of military families have sprung up. They use one another to keep track of their deployed family members and form Internet support groups to bolster one another through the challenges of military life.

Deana Aguirre-Righettini from Riverside, California , said that it makes a world of difference with those social networks.

Her husband Scott was in the Navy 20 years ago and did subsequent stints in the Army and National Guard. Currently, he is in the Army Reserve and expects to return to active duty soon.

Scott was in Iraq for the Desert Storm Operation 20 years ago. Compared with the ways of communication, Aquirre-Righettini said: "Before, you would sit and wait for a letter or a postcard and maybe a phone call, and that would be brief."

"Now they're able to call more often and for longer periods of time," she said. "And through the powers of Army Knowledge Online, you can video chat as well," she added.

In her opinion, Facebook is a major help. In the past year, many military bases and units have established their own Facebook pages. Websites such as Military One Source, Army One Source and Military Spouse Magazine are welcomed by members from the military families.

"I think the Army is pushing for that family togetherness. If you know your family is all right, you're going to be all right, and you're going to stay focused on your job," she said.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been encouraging the use of social media among the ranks.

Jenny Haskamp, spokeswoman for the U.S. Mrine base, said that it 's one of the most effective ways for the soldiers to communicate with their families.

However, there are some negative impacts on the increased use of the internet. It is hard to control some of the websites, especially the open forums. In April, a Camp Pendleton Marine caught flak when he posted comments critical of President Barack Obama. Some postings had to be removed because of profanity.

The U.S. Department of Defense also used Internet-based healthcare to help curb suicides, especially among young soldiers.

General Peter Chiarelli, the U.S. Army's vice chief of staff, told the U.S. Congress that more access to licensed healthcare professionals via online chats and Skype would allow soldiers to maintain a continuity of care with healthcare providers if they are transferred.

Chiarelli said this technology would be most effective among 17- to-25-year-olds, the military age group with the highest suicide rate.

He said a study by Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii found that young soldiers indicated a preference for counseling online vs. face to face.

Pentagon statistics showed that suicide rates for the U.S. armed forces in 2009 ranged from 13 per 100,000 for the Navy to 24 per 100,000 for the Marines. "This generation sometimes opens up much better through Skype" and other digital technology "than by sitting across the table" from a mental health care provider, said Chiarelli.

According to Chiraelli, some 780,000 soldiers have responded to the Army's Internet-based Global Accessing Tool to measure resilience, and the service plans to expand its Web outreach.

Also, the Army uses an Internet-based mental health screening to assess soldiers returning from deployments, he said.



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