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U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Call Home

January 22, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) _ After 45 minutes in line, Marine Cpl. Dana Gough stepped up to the telephone in a dusty marble corridor of the Kandahar airport Tuesday with a grin on his face. It was his turn to call home.

``It’s always worth the wait,″ said Gough, 23, of Fort Hood, Texas. ``It makes you feel good the rest of the day.″

The free phone calls are the military’s way of keeping spirits high at the southern Afghanistan base. E-mails and letters are also delivered at no charge.

``Morale is equally as important as training and maintaining the force,″ said Army Lt. Col. James Larsen, executive officer of the 3rd Brigade of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. ``Staying in touch with family is a way to do that.″

The air assault division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., formally took over control of the airfield from the Marines on Saturday. But the Marines remain on board as the Army waits for more soldiers and equipment to arrive. About 1,100 of the up to 2,500 soldiers expected from the 101st are at the airfield.

Conditions remain primitive at the airfield. Soldiers eat prepackaged meals and there is no running water. The soldiers primarily sleep in tents or on the ground in temperatures that sometimes dip below freezing at night.

To make the phone calls, an operator connects soldiers to a military base close to where they are calling. A local call is then made from there.

The Army occasionally monitors the phone calls, but trusts that the soldiers are following orders not to report classified information in letters and e-mails, said Maj. Paul Fitzpatrick, the division spokesman.

The catch to the free services is that the phone calls and Internet access are limited to 15 minutes, and there’s only one phone and computer available to the soldiers.

There’s also a matter of finding the time to communicate. Some soldiers have waited in line two hours or more to use the phone or computer.

Army Sgt. Zachary Moore, 24, of Selma, Ala., said he’s been so busy in the week he’s been in Afghanistan building trenches along the airfield’s perimeter where he sleeps and stands guard that Tuesday was the first time he’s had time to call his girlfriend.

He was joined in line by Army Spec. Ryan McFarlane, 22, of Pittsburgh, who was also planning to call his girlfriend.

``We’re trying to keep in touch so we’re not lonely when we get home,″ Moore said.

Sgt. Cristofer Graham, 22, of Harrisburg, Pa., said he and other members of the 129th Postal Company based at Fort Bragg, N.C., arrived Sunday to set up the Army post office, which became operational on Monday. The Marines had offered limited mail service along with e-mail access.

Graham said the soldiers live for the communication from home.

``It’s outstanding. You can pick up the phone and call, but when someone takes the time to sit down and write a letter _ especially in an area like this _ it’s a big morale booster,″ Graham said.

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