Technology keeping deployed soldiers closer to home

wcrenshaw@macon.comJune 14, 2014 

A world of separation can’t stop Army Spc. Daniel Brennan from spending Sunday afternoon with his family.

Brennan is deployed to Afghanistan with the National Guard’s 48th Brigade Infantry Combat Team. But earlier this week, he spent some time at grandma’s house back in Macon via Skype, a service that allows people to communicate through computer video.

The service and others like it are widely used by troops as a way to feel closer to family members back home.

His family makes it a group affair when they Skype with him.

His grandparents, mother and cousin all gathered around a laptop to visit with Brennan.

“It means a lot to me, because I like to see if he’s keeping his hair cut,” said his grandmother, Martha Batchelor.

Brennan, an artilleryman, was a Georgia Southern student when he got called up. The unit shipped out in January and is helping shut down bases as the U.S. prepares to withdraw.

At first, when they made the connection Sunday, Brennan could be heard only, saying “Can you see me now?” Then his face popped up.

“There you are!” his family said in unison.

Each family member took turns in front of the computer screen.

The first was his grandmother, who bought the laptop and a new smartphone just to communicate with him. His cousin, Staff Sgt. Stephanie Wammock, leaned over her shoulder.

Wammock is also in the 48th Brigade and deployed in 2009.

As they talked, it was about 8 p.m. -- the end of Brennan’s workday -- in Afghanistan.

“How are you?,” his grandmother asked him.

“I’m doing good,” he said. “I’m tired.”

“Waah, waah,” Wammock retorted. “Suck it up, buttercup.”

They covered a wide range of subjects, from Brennan’s truck that needs repairing to his mom’s new haircut.

But one subject they don’t talk about is the war.

“He can’t really talk about it, and we don’t want to remind him of it,” his grandmother said beforehand.

His grandfather, Robert Batchelor, asked him if he was working out.

“Every day,” Brennan replied.

The connection was a little shaky, and they lost him at one point before connecting again. Wammock said when she was in Afghanistan, Skype was around but it wasn’t used much at all because the technology wasn’t there to maintain a connection.

Brennan’s grandparents and mom said they have felt more at ease due to the communication technology than when Wammock was deployed.

They talked to her only every couple of weeks via phone -- and usually not for very long.

Mount de Sales grad

When everyone was done catching up, Brennan spent a few minutes talking to The Telegraph about services like Skype and what it means to troops serving overseas. He said it’s widely used and it’s common to see his fellow troops walking around the base, looking into their phones at someone back home.

He said he often prefers just to talk on the phone because the connection is better, but seeing his family lifts his spirits.

“It’s always great to see them,” he said. “I love them, so anytime I get to see them it makes me feel like I’m there. Not too far away, at least.”

Brennan graduated from Mount de Sales Academy and was a multisport athlete. He was a kicker on the football team and was ranked third in the state in wrestling.

It’s not just Skype bringing soldiers closer to their families. Brennan is also a frequent texter. His mom likes that quite a bit because if there is a serious incident in Afghanistan that makes the news, he has orders to immediately text “K” to signify that he is OK. He sends her a text every morning when he gets up and every night when he goes to bed.

He also communicates frequently through Facebook. When he told his mom to deliver a message to another relative who was not on Facebook, he was advised just to call.

“You know, that prehistoric thing called the telephone we sometimes have to use,” Wammock said.

Capt. Kevin Wilson, a behavioral health officer deployed with the brigade, said technology like Skype boosts the morale of deployed troops. “It helps them stay connected,” he said. “When there is a frustrating day here, they can call home.”

He uses Skype regularly to communicate with his family.

“My youngest daughter said (deployment) hasn’t been as hard as she thought it would be,” he said.

Before the school year ended, one soldier in the brigade from Atlanta Skyped weekly with his daughter’s class at school.

Wilson’s father served in World War II, and when soldiers left for war then, their families most likely didn’t lay eyes on them again until the war ended.

“You just wrote a letter,” he said, “and it would take a while for it to get back.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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