Military Families 'Visually Connected'

Written by Bonnie Gillespie
Staff Writer, Redcross.org

Wednesday, October 01, 2003 — With 130,000 service men and women now stationed in the Middle East, and after the recent announcement the troop level will be maintained for at least another year, the American Red Cross and its partner organizations have teamed up to develop an innovative video messaging service to keep military families "visually connected" during long months of separation.

At the Palm Beach chapter of the Red Cross, this mother and daughter used Project Video Connect to send a special video message overseas.

Project Video Connect allows military families to create and send video messages to their loved ones serving overseas by installing VIDITalk, a video communication software application donated by technology company, VIDISolutions, on computers at Red Cross chapters and stations around the world.

The combined efforts of the Red Cross, VIDISolutions, America Online and Hewlett-Packard have now made the pioneering service available in 50 Red Cross chapters serving communities with large military populations.

"Through this program we have found a way for them to share in birthdays, anniversaries, babies' first steps, first words and all of the other important events that they would otherwise miss," said Dawn Laskowski of the Black Hills Chapter of the American Red Cross. ""Have you ever considered how difficult it must be for our deployed servicemen to miss so many important parts of their families' lives?"

A user-friendly program, VIDITalk lets military family members here in the U.S. easily create a high quality video and send it to any e-mail address using video and audio streaming instead of large file attachments. Video messages are uploaded via a broadband Internet connection and stored on a server for future access.

"Regardless of what Internet service provider the military members use, as soon as they sign on to check email, it will become part of that email list," said Dick Sanders of the Savannah, Ga., chapter of the Red Cross.

These notification e-mails provide a direct link to the video, which is available whenever a service member is able to access a computer.

"They can click on it and get up to ten minutes of video from home. It's wherever they are," Sanders said. "We've got the Ranger battalion here, and those guys are all over the place. Nobody ever knows where they are, but a lot of times they can access email."

"We're Here Until They're Home"

Described as a "powerful tool in helping families keep in touch during long months apart" by Joan Kelley-Williams of the Bay Area Red Cross chapter, Project Video Connect is linking families from California to the Carolinas with loved ones serving abroad. The Southeast Missouri Red Cross and others also hope the program will remind military families of other Red Cross services just for them and have chosen the phrase "We're Here Until They're Home" as their motto for the video messaging service.

After returning to the U.S from serving alongside troops in the Middle East, AFES staff member Ken Romero uses Project Video Connect equipment to introduce his new son to former co-workers and soldiers.

But Project Video Connect isn't limited to the confines of an office and computer desk, though, according to Amanda Lepof, who is helping facilitate Project Video Connect at American Red Cross National Headquarters.

"Many chapters have taken the equipment 'on the road' to various military events and to military family support group meetings," said Lepof. "This project allows Red Cross chapters to work within their local military communities to offer an invaluable video communication tool."

"Deployed fathers have met their new babies, daughters and sons have received messages from mom and dad, and friends have been able to stay connected - all through Project Video Connect," she said.

With nearly 1,000 chapters across the United States, the Red Cross strives to support every member of America's armed forces, whether he or she is living in the community as a veteran, on a military installation in the U.S. or abroad, or deployed in the field. Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES) staff members serve alongside troops stationed around the world, as 154 mobile staff and 26,831 volunteers are currently assisting service members and their families at 109 military installations.

Since the buildup of Operation Iraqi Freedom began, more than 375,000 military families have been touched by Red Cross services. Emergency communication, financial assistance, counseling and support groups are only a handful of the services available to U.S. military family members from the Red Cross.

Yet the Red Cross is not a government agency and must rely on the generosity of the American public to maintain the financial resources necessary to make those services possible, in addition to providing relief to disaster victims, lifesaving first aid and CPR instruction and a viable blood supply for communities across America.

The American Red Cross asks for your support during the Combined Federal Campaign this year, so please designate the Red Cross (#0700) for your financial contribution today.

Contributions may also be sent to the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services, P. O. Box 91820, Washington, DC 20090. Secure online credit card donations can be made by visiting www.redcross.org/donate/donate.html.

To learn more about Project Video Connect and its availability in your area, contact your local Red Cross Chapter or inquire directy via email with any questions concerning the program.

 

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At the Palm Beach chapter of the Red Cross, this mother and daughter used Project Video Connect to send a special video message overseas.

news photo
After returning to the U.S from serving alongside troops in the Middle East, AFES staff member Ken Romero uses Project Video Connect equipment to introduce his new son to former co-workers and soldiers.