Operation Desert Storm marked the beginning of a shift to electronic communication between troops and their families. During the Gulf War, companies such as AT&T provided phone connections from the Persian Gulf to the United States, so that personnel at some bases could make 10-minute "morale calls" home once or twice a month.
Morale calls still exist, but so do e-mail, chat rooms and video conferencing services via the Defense Switched Network (DSN), the military's global telecommunications network. This all connects to the military concept of "readiness" by troops and their families. Military readiness means troops are focused and ready for duty at all times, free from distractions due to personal problems or inadequate training. "Family readiness" refers to the family being prepared to deal having their loved ones sent on a military mission.
Video conferencing is usually arranged through Family Readiness Centers on U.S. military bases. Most military video conferencing options are open only to immediate family members such as spouses and children, parents and siblings. Video conferencing options, equipment and availability vary, depending on the branch of military service, the size of the base and other factors. At Fort Bragg, N.C., for example, Army families use video conferencing technology in the Family Readiness Center's conference room.
Some Navy ships are equipped for video conferencing, but these calls often require extra coordination between ship and shore. One 2005 conference between the USS Kearsarge and Fleet Forces Command Headquarters (FFCHQ) in Norfolk, Va., brought 60 military families to FFCHQ to see their loved ones by satellite signals sent from the ship.
If you want to get in touch with a relative in the military via video conferencing, and you may not know exactly where he or she is stationed overseas, these steps should help.
- Start by calling the military member's "home base" in the United States. The base operator will direct your call or provide a phone number to the Family Readiness Center or other agency. Conferences generally are set up from home base and run on the secure DSN.
- Once you've reached the Family Readiness Center, ask if video conferencing is available at that base or at a military base in your area. Not all bases are equipped for this, but you may be able to get directions to the location with the facilities you need.
- Be sure to have the military member's full name, rank, and unit (such as the 432nd Fighter Squadron, 3rd Infantry or other designation). You may need to provide this information to get the process started.
- Ask for details about the site's video conferencing, such as cost and availability; explain your special event, if any; and make arrangements to talk to your relative.
- If this doesn't work, try the Red Cross. Call your local Red Cross office, explain that you're trying to locate a family member in the military, and be ready to provide the service member's Social Security number.
Another option available through the military is video phones. At Scott AFB, Ill., the Readiness Center loans video phones to families at no charge. When Air Force members receive orders to go to Iraq or Afghanistan, they can check out the phones for their family. The names of families with loaner video phones are added to a special calling list sent to the Scott AFB telephone operator. Users connect the video phone to their phone line at home and dial the base operator, who verifies the caller's name is on the list. Once verified, the operator connects a free international call on the Defense Switched Network.
Now, let's look at other sources of video conferencing for military families.