Keeping Connected During Deployment
Creative Ways to Send Messages Overseas
December 3, 2013 by Jake Butler
No matter how many times you go through it, deployment will always bring on a number of difficult challenges for military families. One of the toughest aspects is simply being apart from one another.
Thankfully, we live in a digital age where staying in touch is easier than ever before. While your initial instinct may be to hop on Skype for a face-to-face via webcam, that may not always be possible.
For that reason, it's best to utilize a number of channels and get creative when you send messages to the deployed service member in your life.
Even with all the amazing technology we have at our disposal, smooth communication still requires some planning and foresight, especially if your loved one is overseas.
Depending on the circumstances, you may have to get creative. If your service member only has a limited amount of time on the computer or has to deal with a sporadic internet connection, stuff like live video chat on a whim might not work out so well.
First and foremost, I would recommend you try out either a prepaid cell phone or a calling card. The charges on international calls can be astronomical, but setting aside some money to buy prepaid international minutes is your best bet to avoid expensive cell phone bills.
Secondly, understand the circumstances – what kind of internet access does your loved one have? Is it going to be possible for them to maintain a regular routine? What time of the day is most communication going to happen? These are all important questions to address either before deployment or soon after settling down.
Phone calls and written exchanges are nice, but let's be honest – what you want most is to share some face-to-face moments. Most modern laptops come with built-in webcams these days, so video chat services like Skype and Google Hangouts are probably going to be your best option.
With a reliable internet connection on both ends, it's really just a matter of setting up times that work for everyone.
Instant Messaging Apps
If your loved one is serving here in the States then an unlimited texting plan makes sense financially. But depending on your service provider, the charges for international text messages can rack up pretty quickly, so it may be a good idea to use some other platforms to talk.
Luckily, there are loads of free smartphone apps that allow you to send and receive as many instant messages and pictures as you want. The most popular apps are Kik, iMessage, Snapchat, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, Facebook chat – take your pick. They all work pretty similarly and will allow you to stay connected pretty much 24/7 as long as there's a healthy cell phone signal.
Maybe I'm old fashioned, but there's just something special about tearing open an envelope to find a hand-written letter from someone you care about – they just seem more genuine sometimes.
Of course you can also include letters and other messages within care packages, which is a surefire way to brighten any service member's day. If you've got kids, this is a great opportunity to include new photos, drawings or school art projects – anything they can tack up on the wall and look at every day.
If you're looking to include an extra special gift, consider a recordable picture frame. Your absent loved one gets a new picture to look at every day and can hear the sound of your voice whenever they want.
One idea I really love is to make a private YouTube channel. The frequency and content of the videos you upload is entirely up to you – you can keep it simple and just upload a new video with family and friends every once in a while or you can post daily video diaries. Either way, it's there for the deployed service member to watch whenever they're free, and watch again any time they're feeling homesick.
Similarly, you can create a private blog for the same purpose. Unlike a hand-written letter, these kinds of messages arrive instantly and are less likely to be lost or destroyed.
Dealing with Communication Difficulties
To close, keep in mind that unforeseen technical difficulties can arise at any time. If you have kids involved in all the back and forth communication, it's important to set expectations so they're not too bummed out if something goes wrong – like a dropped call, glitchy video feed or disrupted internet service.
Further, it's possible that something will come up and a deployed parent could miss a regularly scheduled Skype session or not be able to respond to an e-mail for a day or two. It's better to discuss that possibility with them ahead of time so they aren't too upset if it happens.