There is an old adage, “The army travels on its stomach”. Well I can tell you, the Army orders its food via the internet!! While much of the military depends on the internet, it is the welfare of the common soldier that truly depends on the internet. While ordering beans and bullets is critical, so to is the link with the people back home.
Since arriving in Iraq, people have been amazed at the ease of which I am able to communicate with my friends and family. I have to admit, I have been amazed, too. I never thought I would have this much access to home. Internet and phone technology is in the middle of this access. But no matter what the advances in technology, it is some of the basic tools of the internet that have kept us going.
Most base camps have an internet café available for the troops; some free, some pay. The cafés are put in tents, trailers, bombed out buildings…whatever space is available. Speed depends on the price. Speed in the free café is like dialup as there can be up to 25 computers sharing a satellite internet feed. The pay services are faster, but cost $1 per 10 minutes. Most of the time, you will gladly pay for the speed. The one real nice thing is that they try to accommodate those of us who brought our own laptops by having lines available to plug in. Now you can prep all emails in advance, plug in, send, download, unplug and be gone.
Basic, simple email is a saving grace over here. From ordering supplies to communicating with another unit to sending a quick note to a friend or loved one, email is essential for the soldiers in Iraq. Even when dealing with units from another country, email can be the common language.
Instant Messenger Services
Never underestimate the power of Yahoo! Messenger or MSN Messenger. The tools these services offer for free are amazing. From chat to voice to webcams to white boards, these services are invaluable. We use IM quite a bit to talk to people on the other side of the country or the world. Even a voice chat is more efficient to use than AT&T’s phones.
AT&T has the contact to provide phone service at the camps, but the downsides make it tough to go through them. Lines are always long for the phones, major delays when speaking and overseas calls are quite expensive. The current camp I am in, however, has solved this issue. With the use of a VOIP phone, calls are as cheep as calling state-to-state. On the VOIP phones, I pick up the handset, press 9 and like magic; I am hearing a dial tone in Huntsville, AL. From there, my 4.9 cent Sam’s card is like gold. And while the AT&T calls sometimes have up to a 4 second delay; there is rarely more than a 1 second delay on the VOIP phones. Once again making the internet one of the most valuable assets in country.
While in Kuwait, I did buy a cell phone from a local service and it worked very well. Great connections, great sound. And with the help of the internet, my wife was able to find a relatively cheap calling card that could call Kuwait for only 24 cents per minute. The bad side to the cell phone was that it only worked until we got about 100 miles into Iraq. As you can imagine, the cell infrastructure of Iraq is not the most reliable or secure, so I don’t plan to get any service while I am here.
My current office has high speed access, and checking news sites and email is no different than back home on the cable modem. Very quick, very dependable. At times, I can have near real time conversations with people in the states via email. I know I have it better than most of the troops in Iraq, I am grateful for what I have. Thanks to the internet, life in Iraq is made much better.