When words are not enough

The problem: How to keep in touch with loved ones overseas.

The solution: E-mails via the Internet. Fastest letters imaginable.

Another problem: E-mail is limited to text and snap shots.

Another solution: America Online (AOL) teams with the Red Cross to set up scores of Web sites with three-minute videos from families at home, to send to service personnel overseas, accessible free and at the push of a button.

Wow. Not only words (e-mails) but now moving pictures with sound. It’s not like having him, or her, home, but it sure beats a simple e-mail letter.

“We’re one of two locations in Washington (Bremerton and Seattle) now offering ‘Project Military Connect,’” said Janet Mayberry, West Sound Service Area Manager in Bremerton.

How it works:

Usual e-mails are limited in how much data they can carry. Text is limited, pictures are small. But AOL Broadband can set up a site on the Internet with oodles of data capacity. A serviceman or woman need only use their e-mail to connect to the site — and they have access to the data, which can show a three-minute video, with sound, of their family wishing them well.

“It’s like receiving a holiday card,” said Mayberry. “We talk to military ombudsmen, ship’s captains and others in finding military interested in this.”

She foresees further advances in technology and an increase in such communications.

“We’re going to be very busy.”

Steve Finley, emergency services manager for the Red Cross, said “People who’ve heard of it are calling us on the Hot Line ... we’re getting lots of suggestions on what families can talk about — school, weather, relatives, etc.”

Unfortunately, at this point, service personnel can’t send similar messages back — shipboard equipment is too limited, said Red Cross officials.

The notion was launched by AOL in May 2003. The company works with the Red Cross at an increasing number of locations all over the world — but usually close to military installations in the U.S. where most of the families are located. The service is offered at about 50 spots. The USO is also a participant with another 50 spots. VIDEOSolutions provides the cameras.

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