Sometime soon, on a computer somewhere, Pfc. Raymond Bernhardt in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, will see and hear his Juneau family.
For the next two weeks the American Red Cross in Juneau is offering residents the opportunity to send video e-mails to family members who are servicemen and women overseas. The two-minute e-mails are free.
"All they need is an e-mail address, and I think every serviceman has one or access to one," said Larry Baillon, who directs the American Red Cross in the Tanana Valley and is helping out in Juneau.
The service is offered free to the Red Cross by AOL for Broadband, which provides the Internet connection, and VIDISolutions, a New York-based company that created the video-messaging software. Hewlett-Packard donated the computers.
The companies started Project Video Connect nationwide in May, using USO locations.
In Alaska it has been used in Anchorage and Fairbanks because of the military bases there, Baillon said.
On Friday, father Mike, mother Marti and sister Marrisa Corpuz tested the system by recording a message for family member Bernhardt.
Bernhardt, 19, a recent graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School, joined the Army in early January and within three weeks was told he'd be sent to Iraq, said Mike Corpuz.
Bernhardt has been in Iraq since April with the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas, Corpuz said. They patrol about 60 miles north of Baghdad, in an area in which U.S. troops are attacked by insurgents.
To date, the family has communicated with Bernhardt by infrequent phone calls and e-mails.
"He calls anywhere from two weeks to a month, when he can get to a phone," Mike Corpuz said. "Sometimes when he can get to a computer he'll e-mail us, and that doesn't happen too often, either."
But on Friday the Corpuzes squeezed together at the Red Cross office near Hospital Drive, in front of a computer overlooked by a little ball of a camera. Bernhardt's birthday is later this month.
"Hi, Ray," Mike Corpuz said in the e-mail. "I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday and a happy thanksgiving and a merry Christmas."
"Hi, son, we miss you," Marti Corpuz said. "It's exciting you get to see us. Here's your goofy sister."
"Hi, Ray, miss you a lot. Hope that you still have your sense of humor. I just want to wish you a happy birthday," Marrisa said.
"I always think about you every day," his father added. "Stay safe. Be alert. And watch each other's back."
In phone calls from Iraq, Bernhardt sounded strong but tired, Mike Corpuz said. But it wasn't until Bernhardt's Army company was profiled in a USA Today article on Nov. 10 that the family realized how dangerous his work was.
The family said it was grateful to the Red Cross for the opportunity to record the video e-mail.
"I think it's great," Marrisa said. "I like for him to be able to see us and hear our voices. We talk to him on the phone, but it's better to see our faces. I think it will cheer him up."
The Red Cross office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 463-5713 to make an appointment to use the e-mail service.
Eric Fry can be reached at email@example.com.
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