2011-06-02 / Opinions

Technology lets modern military families keep in touch from home to battle front

By KIP BURKE
news editor

For a former Navy man who always struggled to keep in touch with his family and friends while he was away, the way servicemen and women use today’s technology to reach out and keep in touch with family and friends is amazing.

Needless to say, for centuries the fighting forces were out of touch with folks back home, who sat with no idea if their soldier or sailor was ever coming back from the war. Even in the last few centuries, news of battle often took months to reach the home front.

Even with the advent of military post offices and airmail, it wasn’t that long ago that we military folks were dependent on letters and tapes mailed back and forth, delivered slowly over days and weeks. Letters I would write would often arrive after I’d returned from a mission, and my dear wife quickly learned to tuck letters and tapes into my bag before I left rather than trust them to the snail mail.

Back then, back on the home front, military wives and families communicated by their unit’s phone trees and newsletters. We could call back to the United States, but it was outrageously expensive. Nothing happened quickly, except in family emergencies, which got priority radio or satellite phone communications as needed.

We were just getting to the very edge of electronic communication in the early 1990s, but the modern military family’s ways of keeping in touch make me a little envious. Make that a lot envious.

Now, depending on the service, the location and the current operations, most service men and women abroad can communicate regularly with their families by email, Facebook, and often by text and cell phone. At large bases, there’s enough bandwidth for Skype twoway video conversations, something I’d have killed for when my boys were little and I was deployed and missing them like crazy.

At least to some degree, the improved contact must reassure parents of fighting troops as to what is going on with their sons on the line in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although they always have to be careful not to compromise security, troops can often communicate directly home in real time.

In a change from recent years, military people are allowed to blog about their military experiences, often on a daily basis. I’ve just spent part of Memorial Day weekend reading several milblogs written by soldiers, Marines and sailors who are actively serving, some in combat right now. Their blogs open an amazing window on day-to-day life at the front, and give readers new appreciation of life in service. (Go to milblogging.com and you can search among thousands of military blogs of every description.)

At first, the military power structure didn’t like the freedom that blogs gave servicemen and their families to speak out, and sometimes complain, but freedom (and public relations) won out. Now the Pentagon hierarchy has come to realize that all the new highways of two-way communications are a good thing, actually improving communications among the military brass, the troops, and the families back home. Now every unit, every general, every wives’ club has a blog and a Facebook page.

But best of all, the high technology allows fighting men and women to see the precious faces of their children, and hear their sweet laughter, no matter how far they are, and remember what it is they’re fighting for.

That’s priceless.

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