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Video teleconferencing brings deployed Marines, sailors ‘home’ to loved ones

4 Dec 2009 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

In early American conflicts like World War II and Vietnam, paper and pencils were the only tools warriors used to stay connected with their loved ones. Families and friends could wait months for a letter, which often showed signs of being battered by the elements.

The times of relying on envelopes and stamps have changed. Now, the average American can instantly communicate with others through cell phones, text messages, e-mail and even through long-distance video teleconferences.

The Combat Center’s Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital is now making it possible for deployed Marines and sailors to stay in touch with spouses, parents, children and siblings from the hospital’s maternity infant nursing department through video teleconferencing.

Sessions on the hospital VTC are available through appointments and are not limited to patients of the maternity ward.

The video teleconference room, connected to the Freedom Calls Foundation communication system, opened for patient use in April 2008 and was donated by John Harlow, the founder and executive director of the FCF.

The foundation, which was created five years ago, is a nonprofit service tailored specifically to keep deployed military members and their families connected, Harlow said.

Harlow said he got the idea for the FCF when he heard of a soldier who racked up a $7,000 phone bill after calling his family from Iraq in 1993.

“I don’t think service members should have to pay to talk to their loved ones,” he said. “This is something that needed to be done. It’s both financially and technologically feasible for these troops to come home from a battlefield and be able to talk to their families – to literally come home.”

Navy Capt. Maureen Pennington, the hospital’s director of nursing services, said she believes the VTC may give many deserving warriors the peace of mind they yearn for while in theater.

The foundation was formed as a public charity supported solely by through donations from the public, Pennington said.

Since its opening, the VTC has connected several Marines and sailors with wives, parents and newborns in sessions lasting up to 45 minutes, Pennington said.

She said she remembers one VTC meeting in particular where a new mother called her husband in Bahrain to introduce him to his first child.

“The little baby was shown to him on the screen, and, when the young father saw his newborn for the first time, the look was priceless,” she said.

More than 10,000 VTC sites exist across the country and can connect to locations like Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Japan, Kuwait and Iraq, Harlow said.

Although there are already four sites in Iraq and one in Kuwait, the foundation is still working to get VTC sites established in Afghanistan by partnering with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, Harlow said.

The VTC not only connects families after a new birth, it can also reunite families for birthdays, graduations, weddings and other special family events, according to the FCF Web site, http://www.freedomcalls.org.

To make an appointment e-mail Harlow at jharlow@freedomcall.org. To learn more about FCF visit their Web site.


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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms