The Internet access actually provides more than a morale boost, it also saves lives. Over the last decade, combat troops have formed their own information networks via the Internet. Sometimes its just an email list of tank crewmen or infantrymen who got to know each other. But there are also bulletin boards and chat rooms. The combat troops are eager to share experiences, and ask if anyone has a tactical or equipment solution to something they have encountered. Most of these Internet meeting places are shut off to the public, but whenever the troops get access to the net, the first thing they do after letting the family know they are OK, is to tell their online buddies about the new use theyve found for night vision equipment machine-guns or whatever. It's a truly secret weapon that is largely overlooked.
Helping keep the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in touch with the folks back home requires money and equipment that the military doesnt always have available. So a bunch of folks in the computer business (Unwire Iraq, www.unwireiraq.com/) have joined together to collect what is needed to get more of the troops over there online. A recent example is the 3rd Battalion of the 6th Marine regiment in Afghanistan. Some $8,000 was raised to get them a satellite dish over the Summer, and Internet service through December. The marines also currently have one WiFi transmitter, a VOIP (Internet telephone) line and two laptops. Another 14 WiFi equipped laptops are on the way, as well as four outdoor WiFi transmitters, that will cover an area of two square miles. More VOIP lines are on the way as well. All this will provide service for some 2,000 troops. Unwire Iraq can often get donations of hardware and software, and FedEx will ship it for free. In many parts of Iraq and Afghanistan, theres enough military Internet capacity to provide the troops with an email and VOIP connection to their family and friends back home. But for many units in more isolated locations, they have to scrounge their own Internet connection.