ABOARD USS KEARSARGE --
When troops like the Marines and sailors of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) deploy, one of the biggest morale-boosts is the ability to quickly communicate with family back home.
"I feel lost if I'm not e-mailing or talking to them at least a couple of times a week,"said Petty Officer 1st Class William Craven III, the 22nd MEU(SOC) Religious Programs Specialist. Any e-mail that Craven gets definitely makes the day that much brighter, he added.
In past centuries of warfare, service members and their families were limited to written letters as their primary means of staying in touch. This is often referred to in the military as"snail mail," because letters can take as long as two to three weeks or longer to get delivered.
Since the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, faster methods of communication, such as e-mail, have almost become the norm for most of the modern world - including deployed military forces.
"It's that lifeline basically,"said Staff Sgt. John Kelmell, an intelligence Marine with the MEU's Command Element, talking about the daily e-mails he gets from his wife. "If I don't get an e-mail from her it's a little depressing," he added with a chuckle.
However, aboard naval ships such as the USS Kearsarge, with more than 2,500 people and fewer than 900 unclassified Internet-connected computers available to them, constant e-mail communication is simply not logistically possible for the majority. The same holds true for other ships, USS Ponce and USS Gunston Hall, with Marines from the MEU embarked.
"They don't have access to computers,"said Cpl. Joshua Snyder, a data technician for the 22nd MEU(SOC). "Even if they did, there's not enough room for all those computers.
Snyder said there are simply not enough of the vital, hard-wired, connection ports, or"drops," to be able to add more computers to the shipboard network.
Enter Moto Mail, which takes the best of written and electronic communication and combines them.
"It's like an e-mail on paper,"said Sgt. Steven Olinger, a mail clerk with Combat Logistics Battalion 22.
Friends and family members at home can go to the Moto Mail Web site (www.motomail.us) and enter their service member's deployed mailing address.
Then they simply type up and submit their messages to the site and within 24 hours, the message is transmitted via the Internet to the unit's mail clerks.
"If you don't have e-mail, you can get letters from your family faster than, say, a regular letter, which would take two to three weeks to come here,"said Cpl. Meliek Bussey, also a mail clerk with CLB-22.
Each day, Olinger and Bussey download, print and deliver anywhere from 60 to 90 Moto Mail messages to the Marines and sailors the messages are addressed to.
"It's already folded. The message is private,"said Bussey. "We don't see anything. It's only for them."
CLB-22 is the Logistics Combat Element for the 22nd MEU(SOC), so Olinger and Bussey handle messages for every Marine and sailor in the MEU, including the ones embarked aboard Ponce and Gunston Hall.
"Really, it's not hard,"said Bussey. "As long as we just do it consistently, like we've been doing it, and it gets out there."
Cpl. Lucas Kerby, a combat engineer with CLB-22, has received more than ten Moto Mail messages since deploying.
"You get a Moto Mail, you're like'Aw man, she wrote this yesterday!' It's not something you could have talked to her on the phone already about," he said. "You get a [hand written] letter and you're like 'Oh. We already talked about this. This letter's pointless.'"
So long as Marines, sailors and other service members deploy to dangerous, faraway places, they will be separated from their families. But, with services like Moto Mail, maybe the separation won't seem so far.
Directions for using Moto Mail can be found on the 22nd MEU(SOC) Web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is made up of its Ground Combat Element, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; its Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced); its Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and its Command Element. Led by Col. Doug Stilwell, the 22nd MEU(SOC) is deployed aboard the ships of the USS Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group. For more information about the 22nd MEU(SOC), please visit the unit Web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.