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Jeff's Afghan Diary: The Web Keeps Us In Touch
March 11, 2007

The Internet has changed everything.  The comic strip Doonesbury featured soldiers in Iraq talking to their families through the marvel we call the Internet, and here in Afghanistan the Internet keeps us connected to… everything!

I am able to call my wife and kids, send pictures and e-mail, receive the same, have Webcam conversations, research Army topics, keep in touch with my mother, father and brothers, my church family, and even members of my team, thanks to the Internet.

The Army relies on e-mail today.  We have two or three e-mail systems over here, depending on the level of classification (e.g., secret, confidential, open  to the public, etc.), and they remain separate for a purpose.  But they all work the same - sending messages electronically to higher or lower commands, sending or requesting information.  We even use it right here, within the same building!  My OIC will send or forward us information via e-mail, even though we all live together - it’s just simpler and easier, and ensures everyone gets the same info at the same time.

It’s been a bit of a trick, but I’ve managed to get my Webcam that I took with me to work, so my family can see me back home.  (We’re still working on the webcam back home so I can see them, too!)  Despite being halfway around the world, and a full half-day ahead of them in time (daytime here is nighttime back home), we can hear and see each other in almost real time.  It’s like having the Jetsons’ videophone, right here in my room.

Satellites make it all happen.  We use a commercial Internet satellite service, which connects many users at a fairly high speed to the World-Wide-Web.  Even our telephones use satellite links for phone calls around Afghanistan or back to the United States.

When we were going through our training at Ft. Riley, I would call home at least every other day and talk for 15 minutes or so.  Here, that same telephone service is still available, but when I call home, there is a noticeable delay, almost like talking on a radio (sometimes I feel like using the same commo talk techniques we use on radio: “Hello, this is Dad, over! How copy?”)  But it’s all thanks to the satellites orbiting somewhere above our heads, receiving and forwarding our signal around the globe.

The Web keeps us in touch.  I recently went and looked at the web site for my hometown church, First Presbyterian Church of Chicago Heights, Illinois.  It brought back a lot of memories, and made me feel a little homesick.  But it was good to feel connected and remember everyone back home.

Speaking of keeping in touch with my church, our pastor sends out e-mails regularly regarding significant events within the life of our congregation.  Unfortunately, I have received a few e-mails announcing deaths of some of our long-time members.  It made me sad to learn of our church’s losses - I have known these members for years, and will miss them.

In wars past, Soldiers would not learn of such events for a long time, perhaps only when they returned home.  Now, I get e-mails about my kids’ grades at school, bills that are due, news around the world, events affecting my father and brothers out of state, and a host of other events which seem oddly disconnected from my current living conditions and situation.  Via e-mail, I can contact my elected representatives, just like back home.  I even get offers for job interviews in my inbox - sometimes I take a moment to reply that I am indisposed, due to wartime mobilization (usually I simply delete them, along with the dozens of junk e-mails I receive every day).

So the Internet allows us to live this schizophrenic life, with both feet planted firmly in both worlds, as if we could possibly try to live in both.  In our last phone conversation, my wife told me how she is learning to budget better, and is paying off our debts little by little.  She has become the disciplinarian of the household, by default.  She has learned this of necessity, and she has struggled with it, but she is succeeding.  She is the reason I don’t have to reply to all the e-mail I get about the home front - she has it handled.  Thank God - that’s one less war I have to fight!

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.