America Supports You: VFW Keeps Families, Troops Connected
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 19, 2006 Military families are staying connected across the miles, thanks to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
VFW national headquarters staff members Alisa Nelson (left), Bud Haney (center) and Steve Crutcher prepare laptop computers for distribution to family support centers of deploying military units. Haney is director of the VFW's Military Assistance Program, which is administering the effort to facilitate contact between servicemembers and their loved ones at home. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
So far, about 103 of 150 laptop computers the VFW's Military Assistance Program purchased are in the field, said program director Bud Haney. While most are in locations that are easily accessible and safe locations, some have gone overseas, he said. Some of those that were deployed are with soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division and the Connecticut National Guard.
All of the laptops are equipped with wireless technology, but also have high-speed DSL modems, he said. Other features include a Web camera and a DVD/compact disc player and writer.
"What we wanted to do was work with the Defense Department's video e-mail capabilities and let the families send video e-mails and messages back and forth," Haney said. He added the DoD's network is online, and families can register with the program to do just that.
"This is all about trying to take some of the stress of communications problems (off) the families and the servicemembers," Bud Haney said. "The whole initiative of the MAP program is to service families out there (and) to help them get through the rough spots of the deployments and help them after they get back."
MAP will rotate the laptops between units as one returns and another deploys, he said. The number of computers sent to any one location depends on the number of people being served, he added.
The VFW has authorized purchase up to 400 of the computers with money from its MAP fund. That fund relies on unsolicited donations, and is earmarked to help servicemembers and their families, Haney said. It also allows the VFW to continue its phone card program, which has distributed more than 7 million phone cards to deploying servicemembers since 1999, when the MAP program was started. Last year alone, more than 1.5 million phone cards were distributed, Haney said.
The VFW also is footing the bill for voice over Internet calls from 191 phone and Internet cafes at select locations throughout Iraq as part of Operation Uplink. The gesture helped deployed troops connect with loved ones on Mother's Day, and the VFW is tentatively planning on repeating the program for Father's Day.
"We're here to support the men and women of the armed forces and their families," he said. "If they need any help, (they shouldn't) be afraid to call the local VFW or the VFW national headquarters, because that's what we're here for."
Those needing VFW assistance or interested in participating in the laptop program should contact their state VFW representative or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.