Kisses from Kosovo

Kisses from Kosovo

Soldiers send high-tech Valentines home from foreign posts


Spc. Tamara Locke, a medical technician with the 313th Hospital Unit at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, hadn't seen her husband and two children since last August, and she didn't expect to until her tour of duty is over in April.

But a little help from Cupid and Army technology united the family for a special Valentine's Day meeting'via videoconference.

Locke's relatives drove two-and-a-half hours to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for a few high-tech minutes with her. The videoconference assured them she is truly OK in a way the usual phone call, e-mail or letter cannot, Locke said.

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size="2" color="#FF0000">'This videoconference is a boon to troop morale as we get to see how our families are,' says Spc. Tamara Locke, a specialist with an Army hospital unit in Kosovo.

'It is difficult to hear someone say they are OK and actually believe it,' she said. 'This videoconference is a boon to troop morale, as we get to see how our families are, as well as for the families left behind being able to see that their loved ones are healthy and doing well.'

Hospital help

The Army organized the holiday gift for reservists from the 89th Regional Support Command stationed at Camp Bondsteel and Camp Able Sentry in Macedonia. The 89th comprises reservists from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany's Rheinland-Pflaz state, the largest American medical center outside the United States, provided the videoconferencing setups. The permanent military installation offers primary care, hospitalization and treatment for more than 60,000 personnel at the center and specialized care for more than 250,000 personnel in the European theater.

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size="2" color="#FF0000">Sgt. Travis Bartholomew says the chance to talk to and see his family in Lindsborg, Kan., was 'one
of the best things the Army has ever done for me.'

The medical center also is headquarters for the Europe Regional Medical Command, which runs a videoconferencing center for telemedicine applications, distance learning and staff meetings. The center is equipped for videoconferencing with three room-size Concord 4500 systems from PictureTel Corp. of Andover, Mass., and several PictureTel 550 desktop units.

The system is linked to a Madge 200 switch'from Madge Networks NV of New York'that has hub extenders for relaying the connection to LAN nodes throughout the hospital campus.

The command provides a satellite link to the Camp Bondsteel hospital in Kosovo that extends a segment of the center's LAN and supports videoconferences on the camp hospital's PictureTel 550 desktop unit.

This month, the center harnessed that technology to improve morale for deployed soldiers and their families.

The videoconferencing calls originated in the United States and were patched via satellite to the troops at the Kosovo and Macedonia camps.

The service invited all families of the 89th Regional Support Command, urging them to go to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., or Fort Leonard Wood to participate in the calls.

Sgt. Loretta Lynn Sweeney's family traveled from their home in Springfield, Mo., to Fort Leonard Wood to spend a few minutes with her on Valentine's Day. Sweeney is assigned to Task Force Medical Falcon and the 313th Hospital Unit as an intensive care nurse. Her two sons and her nephew's wife made the trip. She had not seen them since the summer.

Morale booster

While she appreciates the regular flow of photos, letters and phone calls from home, Sweeney said they weren't the same as the live videoconference.

'This means a lot to my family,' she said. 'They're willing to drive that distance for a short 15-minute conversation because we all miss each other. I'm sure it will make a big difference to troop morale, as it's the next best thing to actually being with your family. The increased interaction makes you feel like you're not so far away from home after all.'

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