The continuing adventures of Beau Yarbrough

E-mail, phone calls bring soldiers word from home

Thursday, March 27, 1997, 0:00
Section: Bosnia,Journalism

The Potomac NewsThis story originally appeared in The Potomac News.

Maj. Jay Greeley is a busy man.

He works seven days a week in Bosnia, often working both day and night shifts as the Reserve Component liaison, smoothing out the transition of Army Reservists and Army National Guard soldiers to full-time work in Bosnia.

“It’s ‘Groundhog Day’ every day!” he laughed. A popular reference at Eagle Base in Tuzla, the Bill Murray movie featured a weatherman who awoke every morning at dawn to relive a frantic Groundhog Day broadcast from Punxsutawney, Pa.

But Greeley also has lots of irons in the fire back home in Leesburg. He volunteers for the Red Cross, coaches Little League baseball and several youth hockey teams.

They will all have to get along without him until his return to America in October. But in the meantime, he keeps up with the Greeley household sports news with daily e-mail dispatches.

He’s been disheartened to hear from his three sons that his teams are spending time in the penalty box in hockey. When he was coaching, time in the penalty box often meant spending the rest of the game on the bench.

Having the e-mail link makes being 4,720 miles away from home a lot easier, he says.

“I think what’s wearing is if you had to sit and wait on your mail,” Greeley said. “We have almost instant communication with our families.”

“It’s difficult sometimes to get to the e-mail,” said Sgt. Mark Gonzales of Manassas, who is stationed at Dobol base east of Tuzla, near the demilitarized zone. The base is more primitive than Eagle Base, where nearly every soldier has easy access to a laptop computer. “But it’s nice to know that when you send it, it gets there in minutes.”

A generation ago, such rapid communication was unthinkable. Soldiers in Vietnam communicated with their sweethearts back home the way soldiers always have: by applying pen to paper. The letters were bundled up and carried out on military flights back to the United States, where they would arrive a week or so later.

But for the U.S. soldiers in Bosnia, that’s yesterday’s news. Literally.

“It’s terrible nowadays in the ’90s,” said Lt. Timothy Mangum, a former Woodbridge High School student now stationed in Germany. “I write a letter, then I go to call [my wife] and, well, all that news is old. If I was paying for [the phone calls], I’d be much more of a writer.”

Mangum, a platoon leader for an artillery division at Camp Demi, south of Tuzla, can make free calls his wife who works on a U.S. base in Germany.

Soldiers who aren’t lucky enough to have spouses working for the Army in Europe get free 15-minute “morale calls” home once a week.

And for those who still can’t get enough of phoning home, AT&T has a Bosnian number. Soldiers can use calling cards at any of dozens of phones set up throughout the American bases.

Greeley pulled out six e-mail print-outs folded in his back pocket.

“‘Hey, Dad, this is a test of your new e-mail,'” he said, reading off the top sheet. Greeley looked at it a moment, smiling. He shuffled it to the bottom of the stack of print-outs.

“This one’s from my wife. She tells me when spring break is, so maybe I can get some leave.” It might be important that he go: “Eric said ‘Mom’s been really bad. Send more gifts.'”

1 Comment »

  1. HEY, I appreciate reading what was written about me,,, what ever happend to the writer and the photo guy… I sure would like to talk to them. Have them call me at my office 202 267 9429,

    Comment by LTC GREELEY — October 2, 2006 @ 15:48

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