With her husband serving in Desert Storm and two teenage sons at home, Denise Lindsey spent hours waiting nervously by the phone for calls from the Middle East that came just a few times a month.
“There were no cell phones,” she said. “If he called when we weren’t here and we missed that call ... I’d be stomping my feet and crying.”
Eighteen years later, Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Lindsey is deployed again. Each day he writes e-mails from Iraq on the laptop his co-workers at the Roper plant in LaFayette, Ga., chipped in to buy him before he deployed. And he calls his wife’s cell phone nearly every night using prepaid phones cards.
“It has definitely helped me being able to be in touch with him more often,” Mrs. Lindsey said. “It makes it so much easier.”
Technology has bridged the distance between deployed troops and their friends and families, giving them the option of nearly daily contact. But for all its advantages, that constant communication can present some pitfalls, military officials said.
Capt. Corey Schultz, public affairs officer at Camp Bucca, Iraq, said military officials stress security to troops when they communicate with friends and family.
“Troops are encouraged to stay in close contact with their families, provided, of course, that they do not pass on classified information or information that could be used to harm them — times when convoys are leaving the base, for instance, or photos of the base’s defenses,” Capt. Schultz wrote in an e-mail.
About 375 soldiers with the Chattanooga-based 1/181st Field Artillery Battalion are serving at Camp Bucca. More than 20,000 Iraqis are held at the detainee camp in southern Iraq.
The Associated Press-- Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division and 1st Infantry Division enjoy some computer time in their camp’s Internet cafe this month near Fallujah, Iraq.
Security is not the only potential snag in daily contact with a deployed soldier, said Mrs. Lindsey, whose husband is serving at Camp Bucca with the 1/181st. Mrs. Lindsey said she’s careful not to let daily contact with his family distract her husband from his job.
In September, when their 30-year-old son severely burned his leg as he attempted to light a bonfire, Mrs. Lindsey downplayed the injuries when she told her husband.
“I didn’t want to give him the gory details. That would have upset him,” she said. “He’s got enough on his mind and he needs to keep his mind focused.”
Capt. Chris Atkins, an Army Reserve soldier from Ooltewah, works as a combat stress counselor at Camp Liberty, Iraq, near Baghdad. He said he sees another downside of constant contact with families.
“I’ve had soldiers come to the combat stress clinic who had grown too controlling or jealous of their spouse’s time on the Internet ... or they could instantly see how much money was spent the same day, and became incredibly angry and critical half a world away,” Capt. Atkins wrote in an e-mail.
And the time difference between Iraq and the United States can make is difficult for families and soldiers to connect, Capt. Atkins said.
“(Soldiers’) wives or husbands get out of work at 5 p.m., which is 1 a.m. our time,” he wrote. “Then when they wake up their wives or husbands are in their busy work day.”
Online at the frontline
As technology advances, programs such as iChat and Web cameras have allowed people across the globe to stay in touch with one another.
For the first few months Stephanie Massengale’s husband was deployed with the 1/181st, she used a Web camera and headset nearly every day to talk with him on the family’s computer. The Massengales’ older son Steven, 3, would wear the headset and sit with his mother and younger brother, David, now 6 months old, while they talked to Sgt. Sam Massengale.
“I think when (soldiers) have kids it helps them to know that their kids are doing fine and let the kids know their mother and father are doing fine,” said Mrs. Massengale, who lives in Hixson.
But the Web camera connection didn’t always work, and Sgt. Massengale had to pay extra for access to it, Mrs. Massengale said. The family now talks on the phone every day using prepaid phone cards, and Mrs. Massengale trades daily e-mails with her husband.
“When he wakes up he’ll leave me an e-mail, when I wake up I’ll leave him an e-mail,” Mrs. Massengale said.
Capt. Atkins keeps friends and family updated via his blog at blessingsfrombaghdad.blogspot.com, and he posted to YouTube a music video of a song he wrote for his wife, Miranda.
Nearly every day Capt. Atkins talks to his wife and two daughters, ages 8 and 5, though an MCI cell phone program for soldiers. He e-mails every day, as well, and also talks to his family through an online chat program called Windows Live Messenger.
“My daughters think it’s the greatest,” Capt. Atkins said. “My 5-year-old is many times too shy to talk on the phone, but when I’m on the computer talking it’s speakerphone so she chimes right in and chats with me.”
But there is no substitute for real contact, he said. Sometimes technology can give a false sense of closeness.
“It can almost give the illusion that you are having a face-to-face conversation with somebody, without the ability to hug or kiss them, or play with them, which, for spouses and kids alike is critical to feeling truly connected with that person,” he wrote.
Jennifer Estes and her husband, Staff Sgt. Stephen Estes, considered using a Web camera and laptop computer to stay in touch while he was deployed, she said, but decided against it.
“I told him, ‘I don’t know if I can handle seeing you and knowing you’re so far away and I can’t touch you,” said Mrs. Estes, who lives in Athens, Tenn.
Staff Sgt. Estes, who deployed to Desert Storm in 1990 and to Iraq in 2004, calls home about every three days, Mrs. Estes said. He has to wait in line to use the phones, and calls are limited to about 20 minutes, she said. But they prefer the conversations to e-mail or Web cameras, Mrs. Estes said.
“He said he’d much rather hear my voice,” she said. “For us, that works out the best.”