Two days before Memorial Day, a son was born to Army Specialist First Class Joel Dingman. He was in the Sunni Triangle in Iraq at the time, but he got to see his son in Des Moines shortly after he was born, thanks to a high-tech video-conferencing network. John Harlow co-founded the “Freedom Calls Foundation” so soldiers can see and talk with loved ones “just like they were sitting across the dinner table,” Harlow says. The organization’s set up conferences to let people attend graduations and their children’s birthday parties via video, and even see newborn children. Harlow and his partner, Ed Bukstel, both have backgrounds in high-tech communications. Harlow says he was in the venture-capital business and started up a couple of ISPs — Internet Service Provider companies in the Caribbean. His partner talked with some soldiers who were so desperate to talk to families back homt they were were passing the hat to collect money so they could buy equipment and set up a communications network on their own. Harlow says that didn’t seem right so they set up the “Freedom Calls Foundation” and got permission from the military to put soldiers in touch. They set up satellite links and in each army camp set up fifty computers and a number of phones, and soldiers can reserve a phone, a video-conferencing center or a computer on which to send email. The first facility’s set up at Camp Cook in Iraq, and he says the Army’s asking the Freedom Calls Foundation to expand to eight more camps in Iraq and two in Afghanistan in the next few months and he says they will then be serving 40,000 soldiers. Harlow says private and corporate donors have helped, offering services and donated equipment as well as money. To see the site and more stories of families connected by the network see www.freedomcalls-dot-org.
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