Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Audio care packages for service members with Google Voice

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

(From time to time we invite guests to blog about initiatives of interest and are pleased to have Sergeant Dale Sweetnam join us here. SGT Sweetnam is working with Google's communications team this year through the U.S. Army's "Training with Industry" Program. -Ed.)

It's not easy to stay in touch with friends and family when you're fighting in a country thousands of miles from home. I spent 13 months in Iraq as an Army journalist where I flew in Black Hawks over Balad and Baghdad working to generate news coverage about my fellow soldiers. The whole experience was physically and emotionally draining, but it was especially difficult when I called home at the end of the day and nobody was there to answer.

For servicemen and women who are constantly on the move, having a single number and an easy way to retrieve messages from loved ones can be invaluable. To help our service members communicate with their loved ones and show our support to those serving our country, Google is launching a new program. Starting today, any active U.S. service member with a .mil email address can sign up for a Google Voice account at www.google.com/militaryinvite and start using the free service within a day.

When you deploy, your life is put on hold. While you live and work in a different world, everyone else moves on with life back home. Your family and friends keep moving, and this sometimes means it's just not possible for them to stay awake until 2 a.m. to receive a phone call. Calling Iraq or Afghanistan is seldom an option.

Google Voice provides a solution to some of these problems. Service members can set up an account before they deploy. Or if they're already deployed, families can now set up an account for their service member. Loved ones can call to leave messages throughout the day, and then when that service member visits an Internet trailer, all the messages are right there. It's like a care package in audio form.

I signed up for an account when I came to Google, and it's already making communications much easier here in the States. I know when I return to combat, Google Voice will help make life a little more manageable.

If you're a service member and you sign up for an account, let me know in the comments below how it works for you. I'd be interested to hear your stories.


Chad said...

This sounds like a great idea. As a deployed soldier in Iraq I'd love to have a place for family and friends to call and leave messages. Just one catch though... The signup page mentioned the need for a US phone number. Like any smart deploying soldier, I had my only phone (my cell of course, come on who has a landline anymore) suspended under Service Members Civil Relief Act. Will I still be able to get an account?

Brian Hutchins said...

Hi Chad. Thanks for your comment. The invitation will be transferable, so once you receive the email, you can forward it to a family member and ask him or her to create the account. They can set Google Voice to send all calls directly to voicemail and deliver messages to your email address. Whenever you reactivate your cell phone, you can remove the phone your family used and replace it with your own.

Chad said...

Thanks for your response. Could you post a tutorial (or just a simple explanation) of how deployed soldiers would go about transferring these accounts to a family member. How they would Set this up for us (and to be completely honest, the geek in me really wants to be a part of this process), and how they would then transfer this account back to us.

Thank you in advance.

Brian Hutchins said...

Hi Chad. The simple explanation is first to get an invite through www.google.com/militaryinvite. The invite comes in an email that can be forwarded to a family member. That person then clicks on the link in the email and signs up for Google Voice. When asked to verify their account they use their phone. They can modify phone routing so their phone never rings and everything goes to voicemail. Then the service member can check voicemail through this account. When back in the states the service member justs changes the forwarding phone to a new number and deletes the previous number. There are tutorials for forwarding phones and phone routing on this page: http://www.google.com/googlevoice/about.html# Hope that helps.