For most Americans, the holidays mean families and togetherness and this year, there are tens of thousands of military men and women deployed far from home, but the Internet is keeping them close to loved ones during this difficult time.
When the U.S.S Truman sailed out of Virginia in early December, roughly 5,000 sailors were on board, leaving their families behind for six months. Their lifeline is the ship's library and a computer center where there's Christmas cheer in the form of email.
Back on shore, families say it'll be a real treat to let loved ones at sea know who got what from Santa Claus and the sailors feel more connected to their families so far away, and it's a real morale booster knowing all's well at home. "Even if it's just 'I love you, Daddy' or something very simple, you feel in contact."
It's not just navy spouses who feel the pain of separation. All armed forces friends and family can find comfort and support online in places like AOL's military community. Over 100 chat rooms and message boards are active at any given time. "The military people need this, this isn't a convenience for them. This is how they are able to communicate with their loved ones in a real time basis," says AOL spokesperson Mike Sherrod.
There's another reason to turn to email to send messages. Due to heightened security concerns, the Department of Defense is not accepting generically addressed letters to the troops. Instead, the USO is working with AOL in a national email campaign. With so many tools available online to stay in touch, an email, something many of us take for granted these days - is precious.
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