• United States

Technology brings us closer to the troops

Apr 07, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Technology in times of war

Like all Americans, I am drawn to the constant barrage of news about the war in Iraq, and I am amazed at the immediacy of the delivery of information.  It’s clear that some common – and some not so common – information technology is at play here.

I am (just barely) old enough to remember how we ordinary citizens received news of the happenings in Vietnam in the 1970s.  Each night, the national news stations would bring us a sanitized version of what the federal government wanted us to know.  There were no embedded reporters, and no satellite images of the battlefields.  The thought of communicating with actual soldiers was unthinkable.  A snail mail letter might take months to reach a soldier in the field.

Communications with the Persian Gulf in 1991 were a bit better, with reporters more or less on the scene using audio phone systems to bring us live reports.  My, how things have changed in the decade since then.

Today, the news reports stream in right from the battlefront via satellite videophones.  These highly portable 20-pound units cost about $7,500 and are absolutely indispensable for news (as well as intelligence) agencies.  “The videophone has become almost mandatory equipment used by our newsgathering teams around the world,” says CNN News Group’s Eason Jordan, chief news executive and newsgathering president. 

The impressive images and audio coming in from the battle zones have surprisingly good quality.  The companies that produce and sell this technology are sure to find a boost in business after as well as during this war.  For example, Iridium officially announced in March 2000 that it was “out of service,” but the company is actively involved in beaming the images back from Iraq.  Who knows?  Maybe this is the boost that Iridium needs to get back into commercial business.

Are you a news junky?  If CNN’s live television coverage isn’t enough for you, CNN will e-mail you breaking war news updates.  This really brings the war right to your desktop.  If you want the service, sign up here:

Weblogs, or blogs, are another modern bit of technology that is bringing news of the war right to our desktops.  Soldiers, reporters, protesters, pundits – it seems everyone is getting in on the act of telling a daily story on a blog.  The wide variety of blogs provides a range of completely uncensored views of the war.  Now, more than ever, we can read what’s it’s like to be in the thick of things. 

The blogs are like voyeuristic online diaries.  Read them to find out what soldiers in the field are eating today.  Get a sense of the emotional turmoil when casualties occur.  Learn how the troops are keeping up morale and staying motivated. 

One of the nice things about blogs is that they allow two way instant communications.  So you can send your messages and thoughts right back to the person keeping the blog.  I’ve read some very heart-warming messages of support for the coalition military on a few blogs.  Positive messages like those have to buoy the spirits of the men and women in the field. 

Some of the more popular war blogs are listed here:

For those of us stateside who have a loved one in the Middle East, there’s nothing like regular old e-mail for keeping in touch.  U.S. Army CIO Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello reports that by this summer, nearly 30,000 Army workers (including contractors) will be using Web-based e-mail.  The Army is using both wired and wireless technologies to provide this service to its forces.

How important is e-mail in this war?  If you ask the families who stay in touch with their loved ones deployed overseas, they’ll tell you it’s absolutely priceless to have the comfort of nearly instant communication coming out of the desert or off the sea. 

I heard a story the other day that made me smile.  A military commander was so busy with his tasks at hand that he nearly forgot it was his wedding anniversary.  He told reporters, “I’ll have to e-mail my wife to tell her ‘happy anniversary’.”

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at