Correspondence from the Front:
The Changing Ways American Soldiers Write Home
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"These days 'force protection' is a watchword of extra importance to the Department of Defense."

Computer Terminals in Use

With the advent of modern methods of communications and increased security measures in the United States, the way soldiers correspond with those at home has come under high scrutiny.

Traditional mail systems have been dramatically slowed by a heightened level of security at mail sorting locations. Since the September 11 attacks, every package that goes through military mail has to be carefully screened for explosives, weapons and chemical or biological agents. Religious items, alcohol and pornography are also prohibited.

Boxes Stored to Be Shipped

In October of 2001, fears of anthrax-tainted mail, and the extra staff required to screen it, prompted the Pentagon to shut down long established mail programs such as “Operation Dear Abby” and “Any Servicemember.” Those programs allowed civilians to send a greeting or care package to a random soldier, sailor or Marine overseas.

Since the war began in Iraq on March 19, military mail processing centers such as Fort Dix have received more that 2,400 pieces of mail each day. In many cases, the military’s mail system is backed up due to “unsolicited mail packages" that have overwhelmed the postal service and may be keeping mail from people with loved ones overseas from getting through. Unsolicited mail is mail addressed to no one in particular, such as “Mr. Army Guy.”

The Defense Department has placed restrictions of unsolicited mail, and has urged people to donate money to organizations that provide soldiers with entertainment and toiletry items while at the front instead of sending packages through military mail.

For soldiers fighting in Iraq, the standard delivery delay is 14 days, which in many cases means that troop movement is outpacing their mail. It is likely that servicemen and women will only be able to receive letters once the war ends.

E-mail use prompts its own unique security risks as well. Though military officials believe that the instantaneous interaction e-mail provides to soldiers in remote locations helps to improve morale in the field and at home, many worry that there could be inadvertent leaks of sensitive information from the battlefield.

The Air Force, Navy and Army have all stated that they are looking into limiting or monitoring e-mail traffic from certain locations. Soldiers in all branches have been instructed not to send certain types of information over the Internet, but policies on Internet access are generally left up to division and unit commanders.

Some military critics argue that there should be a clearer Pentagon policy on how to deal with Internet communication systems. E-mail communications raise several potential problems: “It is voluminous and thus hard to monitor; it can convey not only words but images; it is immediate, meaning that an enemy could conceivably tap into real-time updates or, say, troop movements, the presence of a general, or a military outpost’s perimeter defenses.”

Computer security experts are not really concerned that Iraqi forces would devote much attention to trying to hack e-mail communication from U.S. troops, and the military’s sensitive operational information is kept on a proprietary network called the Secret Internet Protocol Network that is not connected to the publicly-accessible Internet, making it extremely hard for hackers to penetrate.

The main concern that computer and military experts worry about is that Iraqi forces might accidentally obtain messages sent home by soldiers, or that outsiders might view pictures published to a publicly accessible Web site.

 

Site created by

Jennifer Berringer

April 2003

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