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America Supports You: Group Helps Keep Families, Troops Connected

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2006 – The communication gap between military families at Fort Drum, N.Y., and their soon-to-be deployed servicemembers was bridged before it existed, thanks to Operation Homelink.

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Lisa Wrenn, with help from sons, Kasey, 11, (center), and Kody, 8, carries a computer donated by Operation Homelink on Aug. 23 at Fort Drum, N.Y. Wrenn’s husband, Army Spc. William Wrenn, recently deployed with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Operation Homelink is a member of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which spotlights ways the American people and the nation's corporate sector support U.S. servicemembers.

The Chicago-based, nonprofit’s president and founder, Dan Shannon, was on hand Aug. 23 to help distribute 100 refurbished computers to families at Fort Drum. CDW-Government Inc. donated the computers, Shannon said.

CDW-Government, Inc., is a leading source of information technology solutions to governments, according to a news release.

The computers will provide the families, whose servicemembers are preparing to deploy with the Army’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, the means to maintain e-mail contact with their loved one during the deployment, Shannon said.

“I can’t think of a better place for us to have taken those computers,” Shannon said, explaining that officials at Fort Drum told him most of the servicemembers stationed there are currently deployed.

Lisa Wrenn, whose husband, Spec. William Wrenn, with the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, was especially appreciative.

“The hardest part of deployment is waiting for the calls that might come once or twice a month,” she said in a Homelink news release. “This is huge, not only for contacting my husband, but my Family Readiness Group as well. It will be great for my kids to e-mail their dad.”

For some young spouses that deployment is a first. One young woman in particular, made an impression on Shannon, he said.

“I spoke with a woman who left her family in Florida recently. She’s there by herself, (and) her husband just deployed,” Shannon said. “There’s enough anxiety in itself just with him deploying, but then not to be able to communicate with him (is even worse).”

Despite the joy the computers brought the recipients, it was an emotional day. “They recently lost some soldiers there,” Shannon said.

Fort Drum families are not the first beneficiaries of Operation Homelink’s efforts, Shannon said. Since its inception, the organization has provided 1,500 military families with refurbished computers and the means to communicate with loved ones.

This is made possible through corporation’s bulk donations of qualified used computers. Each donation must consist of at least 100 desktop or 10 laptop computers with these minimum technology specifications: Pentium III desktops with an 850 MHz processor or Pentium III laptops with a 500 MHz processor, Shannon said. No further monetary donation is required, and the donor can specify which military facility will receive the computers.

Often corporations donate practically new equipment, he said. When that’s the case, Homelink sells those computers and uses the proceeds to purchase refurbished computers, which fulfill Homelink’s goal of providing a means of communication.

“Rather than shipping people brand new laptops and sending to 30 families … we would rather sell those and buy refurbished,” Shannon said. “By doing that, we can pay the shipping and all the costs and help out over 100 families.”

When the donated computers aren’t so new, they are simply refurbished to ensure all existing information is wiped from the hard drives. They’re then tested and reloaded with a new operating system and modem and shipped to the designated unit, Shannon said.

As much as Homelink would like to entertain individual requests it’s not economically feasible, he added.

“The economics are such that it’s four times more expensive to send out a boxed individual computer than it is to send them as we did to Fort Drum, in bulk” Shannon said. “We also aren’t able to accept individual computers from donors, as much as we’d like to.

“We need to work in mass quantities for the economy … and efficiency of the process,” he said.

That process will allow Homelink to provide computers to families at Fort Carson, Colo., soon, Shannon said. “Then we’re working on getting some computers to Fort Hood (Texas) and Camp Lejeune (N.C.) later this year,” he added.

The next step is finding an Internet service provider to donate Internet connections for these families, Shannon said. Though he realizes there are companies that provide a certain number of hours of Internet connection at no cost, families are responsible for the charges above and beyond those few hours.

“It’s something I’ve been working on, but we haven’t made the right connections with the right organization,” he said. “We’d love to have somebody … step up and provide free Internet service for the first deployment, for the 12-month period.

“It seems logical to me that those (families) would be loyal customers for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Corporations interested in donating qualifying used computers to Operation Homelink should visit the organization’s Web site.

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Related Sites:
America Supports You
Operation Homelink

Click photo for screen-resolution imageOperation Homelink, which connects military families with their loved ones overseas, provided 100 to families at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Aug. 23. The computers, computers donated by CDW Government, Inc., will enable daily e-mail communication while troops are deployed to Iraq. Courtesy photo  
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