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Linking service members, families is goal

February 28, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - They may not be able to reach out and touch someone, but if American Red Cross volunteer Dieter Protsch gets his wish, local family members of those serving in the Middle East will at least have a chance to see their loved ones while they talk to them.

Protsch said volunteers first need to determine if there is demand in Washington County for such a service.

Cindy Blackstock Kline, director of emergency services for the American Red Cross's Washington County chapter, said the Red Cross is investigating if it is feasible to provide video conferencing services for local families to contact loved ones serving in Iraq and Afghanistan - audibly and visually.

Kline said the initiative is still in "planning stages" and is being coordinated by Protsch.

Kline said the Seattle American Red Cross chapter has had success with such a program.

Protsch, a German native who served for 20 years in the U.S. Army, said he and the local chapter of the Red Cross need to find out if there is enough demand in the county to justify the project.

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"How many families do we have here that have family serving in Iraq and Afghanistan? We really have no idea," Protsch said.

Protsch, who retired from the U.S. Army in 1976 with the rank of major, said he is hoping people contact the Red Cross to let them know just that.

Protsch said the difficult part of such a project is not the cost, but rather, finding people at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to coordinate the project from those areas.

"It doesn't really cost much, all you need is a (personal computer) and a Web cam," he said.

Protsch said he believes the video conferencing conversations between family members would boost morale.

Mary Burral, a Boonsboro woman who served in Iraq as a U.S. Army specialist in 2003 before sustaining severe leg injuries, said such an option would be great for soldiers.

"To be able for them and their families ... to actually see that they are all right, I think people would really appreciate that," she said.

Hagerstown resident Roy Poper III, whose son served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, said he believes the service would be a tremendous help to local families. Poper said his family could be faced with using such a service with Roy Poper IV if his son is sent to Iraq again because of his reservist status.

"I guarantee we would take advantage of it. A second time would be really rough on us," Poper said.

Protsch said those interested in a video conferencing service linking families with those serving in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan may contact the American Red Cross at 301-739-0717.

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