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America Supports You: Donated Computers Help Families Keep in Touch

American Forces Press Service

NEWPORT NEWS, Va., May 20, 2005 – Remember mail call during M*A*S*H? Radar would walk around and hand out little dollops of home to Hawkeye, Trapper John, and Henry Blake. The mail was always old, sometimes months, and the newspapers that often came along were much more "papers" than "news," arriving long after the stories were relevant.

Of course, e-mail has changed mail call in the military, with the Pentagon setting up more than 500 e-mail kiosks around the globe to enable troops to connect to home.

What happens on the back end though? The average E-1 family lives on a meager $14,750 a year. What are the chances that they can afford a computer with broadband wireless access to speak to deployed loved ones?

Despite the e-mail kiosks erected by DoD, families at home often lack the connectivity to read the communications from loved ones, and they must rely on each unit's "Radar O'Reilly" to place an expensive phone call or to distribute the mail.

For 100 junior-enlisted military families stationed around Fort Eustis, Va., this reality changed today.

"Operation Homelink," in cooperation with CDW Government Inc. and the United Service Organizations of Hampton Roads, presented 100 refurbished computers to families of soldiers and airmen stationed locally.

Families of soldiers in the Army's 7th Transportation Group and 8th Transportation Brigade at Fort Eustis, as well as airmen in the Air Force's 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, received free computers.

While most servicemembers have access to e-mail on ships or other remote outposts, the situation often is different for their families back home. Junior enlisted military families are often not able to afford computers, and must rely on slow postal service or expensive phone calls to stay in touch, officials said.

Operation Homelink, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, strives to link American troops deployed overseas with their families through e-mail using donated computers.

Operation Homelink's technology partners provide professional refurbishment services and ensure existing information is wiped clean from the computers' hard drives. The computers are then tested, reloaded with new operating systems and modems, and shipped in bulk to the selected unit.

"Operation Homelink is always looking for a few good companies, such as CDW-G, to support our military families by donating old computers," said Dan Shannon, president and founder of Operation Homelink. "Not only does this type of donation allow a company to support the military community, it reduces unnecessary costs for storing the unused computers and reduces waste."

So far, Operation Homelink has been able to successfully link more than 800 families with their troops overseas. Spouses or parents of troops within the junior-level pay grades (E-1 to E-5) are eligible to receive donated computers. The USO and other military-support agencies help determine which specific units will receive computers.

"Operation Homelink is a great program to keep families close while separated due to deployments. We are proud to be a partner in such a worthwhile program," said John Gentile, president and CEO of the USO of Hampton Roads. Operation Homelink accepts donations of qualified end-of-life computers from corporations.

Large donations (minimum 25) of used computers are needed to effectively connect the thousands of military families wishing to communicate with their soldiers. Donated computers must be at least Pentium II laptops or Pentium III desktops. Such donations are tax-deductible and have the added benefit of reducing the number of computers filling landfills, program officials said.

"A letter to a loved one may take weeks to transit from the United States to a loved one on deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan," said Max Peterson, CDW-G vice president of federal sales. "These machines will take an infrequent, multi-week process of communicating with families, and turn it into a daily, 30-second activity.

"Now that is an information revolution," he added.

(Courtesy of Operation Homelink.)

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Related Sites:
Operation Homelink
USO of Hampton Roads
America Supports You

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