America Supports You: Mouse Click Closes Distance Between Troops, Families
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 4, 2008 For deployed servicemembers and their loved ones, maintaining close family ties takes more than the occasional phone call or e-mail.
Kursten Byrne, holding a photo of her husband, Marine Capt. Patrick Byrne, and their four children use “Websites for Heroes” as a way to stay in touch. Captain Byrne is deployed in Iraq. Photo courtesy of Websites for Heroes
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
It happens through a free, personalized and password-protected Web site.
“Deployments are hard on families. When you’re away and you’re in harm’s way, … it’s a lonely place,” said Terry Gniffke, who founded “Websites for Heroes” with Mike Sawtell. “You miss home, and the greatest thing is to be connected in some way. ‘Websites for Heroes’ allows that to happen.”
Each site allows for unlimited photo uploads and can support two hours of streaming video so parents can see what the family is doing back home. Among other features, it also provides a message board and kids’ calendar, which helps Mom or Dad stay actively involved in their child’s life.
“They can be proactive in communicating, ‘Hey, how was your English test?’” Gniffke said. “[That way], their son or daughter feels like Dad’s still connected or Mom’s still connected to their life.
“You’ve got all these elements that make for a great interactive social network for the family to communicate,” he added.
Websites for Heroes keeps military families connected, whether they’re deployed overseas or across the country, and it does so at no cost to the family. Each personalized, password-protected family Web site -- there are currently 1,200 -- is sponsored at a cost of $99 a year. The individual sites Websites for Heroes offers military families are sponsored by individuals and, in some cases, by corporations, including Gateway.
While the sponsorships are one-time donations, Gniffke said, he hopes donors will realize the benefit to the families and make it an ongoing part of their support for the troops.
“This is a mission for me,” he said. “This is near and dear to my heart.”
Gniffke knows from experience just how important something like Websites for Heroes can be. The former Marine served in Vietnam, and he said he remembers waiting up to three weeks for a single letter from home. As tough as that was on him, he said, it was tougher on his family when his base got hit and the letter he wrote to let them know he was all right hadn’t arrived before there was another attack.
“It’s tough on the home front, and it’s tough on the other side,” he said. “What a difference [Websites for Heroes] would have made.”
Gniffke didn’t have that luxury in Vietnam, but he and Mike Sawtell are going to make sure the gap between home and the front lines is much smaller for this generation of servicemembers.
Editor's Note: To find out about more individuals, groups and organizations that are helping support the troops, visit www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil. America Supports You directly connects military members to the support of the America people and offers a tool to the general public in their quest to find meaningful ways to support the military community.