Mailbag: The cost of war

The Internet has served most soldiers in the Middle East well, if they’re willing to pay for it.

It’s been a lifeline, offering immediate communication with their families back home.

Some members of the Minnesota National Guard in Kuwait have found out recently that the connection costs money, and there’s no guarantee. Jillian Wilkins of Minneapolis, the mother of a Guardsman, wrote recently that her son had free access to the Internet until a few months ago when a $30 a month charge was imposed on the soldiers. “And what makes it even more

difficult is that most of the time he cannot get connected and/or stay connected. When it was free it was working great, he was even able to make phone calls over the web,” she said. “That is also impossible now.”

The soldiers in Ali Al Salem, Kuwait have ponied up the money, and gotten little in return.

Jillian’s son, Joel, says a lousy connection when the service was free was one thing, but having to pay for it and get so little in return is something else.

“Most of the time, things are downloaded between 1-5kbps,” he says. “Today it was actually downloading at over 5kbps, which is amazing for your room. Anyway, regardless of how well the Internet is working in my room, it was working. Some of us on my team live in different buildings. I know that at least three soldiers on my team (in a different building from me) had no access for almost a week. About a month ago, my buddy and I had a 3-day period that we couldn’t connect either. It seems to cut out completely from time to time and, of course, there’s no reimbursement offered for those days you missed out.”

I asked the public affairs office of the Minnesota National Guard for an explanation and was told last week that someone in charge of the Minnesotans in Kuwait “would be in touch” to explain the situation, according to a spokesman. That was the last I’ve heard from the Guard on the subject.

In some cases, soldiers in the Middle East are to set up networks through their own ingenuity and some help from home as soldier Ronnie Tabor documented on his blog in Afghanistan last fall…

“… a contractor was brought in to provide Internet much as we have just done. They charged everyone a $200 deposit, collected that and never came back. When we first got here there was another contract that would have cost over $48K to the Camp. Each individual would have to pay $100 a month for a 128Kbps connection.”