May 15 2009

Staying Connected

Operation Homefront's computer donation program helps military families and wounded warriors keep in touch via the keyboard.

Bethany Caruthers has been best friends with her husband, Spc. Bryant Caruthers, since she was 15, so it’s difficult being apart while he’s deployed in Iraq with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

But a computer helps lessen the distance for the military wife, 23, and their 2-year-old daughter, Zoey, who live on base at Fort Bragg, N.C. “I’m able to talk to him through Yahoo Messenger and see him on the webcam, and Zoey is able to see Daddy and interact with him,” Caruthers says. “That’s a big deal to us because a lot of times the phone lines are really bad in Iraq.”

The computer came courtesy of Operation Homefront, an organization that provides emergency assistance and morale to troops and their families. CDW•G has worked with Operation Homefront to donate more than 936 computers to service members and their families.

Operation Homefront’s computer program is designed to help troops and wounded warriors keep in touch with their loved ones through computers, says Amy Palmer, interim president and CEO. “Many deployments last 12 months or longer, so we consider computers essential for helping families stay together,” she says.

Military wife Bethany Caruthers and daughter Zoey
use a desktop PC provided by Operation Homefront
to stay in touch with Spc. Bryant Caruthers, who is
serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq.

Face to Face

The new or refurbished notebook and desktop PCs include Pentium IV and above processors and a variety of configurations. Some of the devices include web cameras or specialized voice activation software that helps accommodate disabilities. The charity also furnishes software for recipients to load.

The Caruthers family received a Hewlett-Packard desktop from Operation Homefront of North Carolina last fall, shortly before Bryant was deployed in December. “The computer was really a blessing,” Bethany says.

Bryant uses a personal notebook computer to stay in touch, so he’s able to avoid the computer lab lines during his daily half hour of personal time. Bethany says they’re able to communicate almost every day, which provides some comfort and relief. “He sends a funny picture for our daughter, which helps cheer me up, and I do the same for him. And I’m able to send pictures of how Zoey is growing.”

In addition to keeping in touch with her husband, Bethany has found the PC helpful for daily activities, using online banking to monitor accounts and pay bills and e-mailing friends and family to let them know how Bryant is doing. “I couldn’t be more proud and appreciative of what they’ve accomplished over there,” she says of his unit, Delta Company, 5-73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Free Help

The Computing Technology Industry Association provides wounded warriors and other veterans IT training through its Creating Futures program.

Families of those who are serving overseas aren’t the only benefactors of the computer donation program. Many go to wounded warriors who are readjusting to life on the home front.

“With so many wounded recuperating in medical facilities, these laptops are critical to communicating with family members, filling out disability paperwork, applying for civilian jobs, and even paying household bills,” says Palmer.

More Than Virtual Help

Operation Homefront also offers veterans transitional housing facilities near Houston’s Brooke Army Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center in the Washington, D.C., area as a stopgap measure until disability benefits from the Veterans Affairs Department kick in.


Estimated number of computers Operation Homefront has distributed

since its inception

As Pfc. Antoine Hicks awaits a heart transplant at Brooke Army Medical Center, the 20-year-old occupies an Operation Homefront Village apartment in San Antonio. The apartment came equipped with a computer that Hicks uses to stay in touch with his siblings and friends via e-mail.

That PC has been a lifeline for his mother, Monique Hicks, who arrived from New York last July to care for her son. Her responsibilities preclude her from taking a job in the area or attending college classes, but in June she’ll begin an online course through Operation Life Transformed to further her education.

“The computer is very important right now,” says Hicks. “It also helps me with my support system by connecting to the rest of my family.”

Staying in touch is especially important in a far-flung military family. All but one of Hicks’ five children are in the service. “I have two children that are ready to be deployed within the next three to six months — one in the Air Force and one in the Army.”