Instant messages from the war zone
June 8, 2005
It was 106 degrees in Mosul on Friday with forecasts predicting highs in the 120s for next week. The shops were open, the people were out and all in all it was a pretty typical day, though, says Sgt. Donny Jenkins of Carson City, “There really aren’t any typical days around here.”
High-tech weapons systems like unmanned aerial vehicles, GPS-guided bombs and the hybrid Stryker combat infantry vehicle have done wonders to win battles and steel troop morale during the war in Iraq, but for many of the 150,000 soldiers in the country, there’s nothing quite like an Internet chat with a family member to get them through another day.
Calling from the northern Iraqi city after a long day on patrol, Jenkins, 28, tells of how the comparatively simple technology of a web camera and e-mail account allows him to better focus on the military mission at hand.
Though stationed 7,000 unyielding miles from home along the Tigris River, the Internet enables the newlywed to see his wife’s face nearly every day.
“Being able to communicate in real-time is absolutely priceless,” says Jenkins’ mother, Janet Boyer. Jenkins’ wife, Elizabeth, and mother-in-law, Denise Gomes, quickly nod their heads in agreement.
Talking to his family is just one of the many things Sgt. Jenkins is able to do online.
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For his stepdaughter’s fifth birthday, he surfed a few Web sites and ordered a play set for her.
He also sends his wife roses every week, sometimes twice a week. They hang in her bedroom, dozens of red, peach and white bunches of dried flowers.
“I’ve saved every single one,” says Elizabeth, who didn’t own a computer before her husband was deployed eight months ago.
Now, the room is practically built around her PC.
Whether it’s 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., the Jenkins’ family computers are always on.
Boyer says she makes sure the volume is turned way up on her computer so she doesn’t miss an instant message “beep” from her son.
“Obviously, it’s a great way to know he’s OK when anything bad shows up on the news,” she says.
“When we heard about the (Dec. 22, 2004) mess-hall attack, we didn’t hear from him for 36 hours,” she said.
It was an anxious day-and-a-half, but it sure beats an anxious two weeks or more waiting for a letter to arrive, they agree.
One thing Sgt. Jenkins says he doesn’t do too much of online: Check the latest news.
For one, he’s living it.
“I know the country is behind us,” he says. “Even if they didn’t support the war at first, we know the American people support us.”
Jenkins says the Iraqi police forces are really starting to take some of the load off American forces.
“We’re starting to be in a position where we’re supporting them, not the other way around,” he says. “That’s progress.”
He remembers election day in Iraq. “Watching the people coming out to vote and take a stand despite the threats against them … that was amazing. The majority of the people here just want a better life. They’re tired of living in fear. We’re helping them make that happen.”
He talks fondly of the children who come out to greet them on their daily patrols.
“We actually end up giving away a lot of the stuff people send to us and pass it out to the local kids. So many of them have no food, no shoes. You really want to do something to help them.”
It’s an element not often touched upon during newscasts, but Jenkins understands. “That’s what’s going on – the IEDs, the suicide bombers. That’s the news of the day.”
What he’s doing, he says, is the news of tomorrow.
With four months to go before he’s scheduled to come home, Jenkins says he’s starting to think about his future. “I love the Army,” he says. “But it’s a strain on the people you love.”
Despite the Internet’s manifold flexibilities, Jenkins notes it’s something of a challenge to apply for jobs while fighting a war.
“It’s hard to send out those resumes while you’re on a battlefield,” he laughs.
Jenkins says he’d like to go into law enforcement when his tour ends.
Once he gets home, his plans include a honeymoon with his wife and a night of trick-or-treating with his stepdaughter, Brooklenn, come Halloween.
“Tell them that I love them and I miss them and I’ll be home soon,” he says before the satellite drops the signal and he’s gone.
Luckily, he has the chance to tell them himself.
– Contact reporter Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.