Nothing lasts forever. That's the bittersweet backdrop to the e-mail messages that have been flying back and forth for months between soldiers and sailors in the Persian Gulf and their loved ones back home. While members of the military have had unprecedented access to e-mail during their deployment, they've been hitting the send button knowing that the plug can be pulled at any time.
"I kind of felt that way today," Laurie Capacchione said Monday, after the first check of her e-mail inbox yielded no messages from her husband, John, an anesthesiologist from Bethesda Naval Medical Center now in the gulf aboard the hospital ship Comfort. "I thought, 'Oh no, it's stopped."'
It hadn't, though, and as the week went on, Laurie, a Navy nurse who herself spent time on the Comfort, continued to hear from her husband.
She sees the oddness in conducting an almost instantaneous digital discussion when separated by thousands of miles. "It is kind of strange," she said. "I feel like I'm talking to him every day. I feel like he's here because I can communicate with him."
John Capacchione said he tries not to take any of the messages for granted. "I tend to treat each e-mail as if it's the last one," he said in a phone interview from the Comfort. "I always say my parting 'God blesses' and 'I love yous.' I never know when the last one is going to be."
Between 20,000 and 30,000 unclassified e-mails have been received by the Comfort during its deployment, said Lt. Cmdr. Edward Austin, a spokesman. A similar number have been sent out. The same thing has been happening at "morale and welfare" tents in the deserts of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, even as the U.S. inched closer to war over the past days.
"It is so nice to converse with my family and friends several times a day," Capacchione wrote in an e-mail. "It is truly a morale builder." Military officials said that the e-mail would be shut down when fighting begins.
For Frank and Mabel Capacchione, their son's deployment has pulled them into the digital age. The computer the Rockville, Md., retirees use is an unloved hand-me-down that passed first from their daughter and then through two grandchildren before they got it.
"All of them are saying it's too slow," said Frank Capacchione, 72. "It is slow, but it serves my purposes. If it wasn't for my son leaving I probably wouldn't bother with the thing."
Any member of the military can have an e-mail account with a .mil address, the only domain that can receive messages in the field. Troops can also receive small e-mail attachments, such as digital photos. Members of the military have been briefed not to divulge sensitive information such as their location or troop strength.
Providing the e-mail access, said Marine 1st Lt. Joshua Rushing, a U.S. Central Command spokesman in Qatar, means striking a "balance between the morale of the troops and security. We have a saying: Security is at the source. Rather than suppressing the medium, you rely on the judgment of the individual."
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