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Morale Tent lets troops keep connected

By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Oct. 19, 2001) -- Recent changes in the global political environment have caused great concern for family members who wonder about deployed loved ones. Likewise, deployed service members worry about family members back home.

The Morale Tent here tries to eliminate that distance and keep families in touch. While the tent offers services ranging from movie rental to T-shirt sales, the most popular of the amenities remains the bank of telephones allowing military members to call home and the nearly 30 computers providing e-mail access to members wanting to send a quick letter or a digital photo to a loved one.

The 39th Mission Support Squadron Family Support Center annex provides e-mail services to support their Separation and Reunion program.

"This program is designed to keep deployed people in contact with loved ones. It also helps make the reunion, the coming home, go a little smoother," said Bill Koch, 39th Mission Support Squadron lead customer service representative for the FSC annex. "Members might expect to jump back [to their regular life] as if it were one day. But even a 90-day rotation is a significant disruption."

Koch figures around 800 people a day come in to use the e-mail computers to stay in touch with their families.

In addition to the computers there are also video conference phones that allow individuals to call home and see their loved ones on a TV screen.

"Once the connection is made," said Koch, "then you can actually see hubby and junior at the other end."

The tent even makes children's books available so deployed members can read a bedtime story to their children back at home.

Between the phones and the computers, there is ample opportunity to stay in touch.

"There is no reason members should not be in contact with their family while they are here," said Koch.

Morale Tent visitors seem to appreciate the convenience and the services provided.

"I come to keep in contact with my friends and family," said Airman 1st Class Kenneth Jamison, a crew chief with the 493rd Fighter Squadron, Lakenheath Air Base, England. "This really gives people a break and gets their mind off the work.

"When you find you are coming to live in Tent City, you don't think things will be that nice, but that's not the case at all."

Master Sgt. David Keck, fuels technician, 18th Supply Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. agreed. "It is a lot nicer than I thought. And it is convenient, too. My troops use it a lot. Until you get here, you don't know - it's a lot nicer than you expect." Keck visits the Morale Tent to use the Internet or to rent movies.

Tech Sgt. Michael Koen, hydraulics technician, 100th Aircraft Generation Squadron, Mildenhall Air Base, England, tries to call his family three times a week or more.

"This is awesome. I come here and watch some TV or use the telephones and call my family," said Koen. "I call daily if I can, to catch up on the news. This is a crucial service. It makes us less stressed out."

And like his Tent City neighbors, Koen feels the reality of the Morale Tent and Tent City is better than the myth. "A lot of people get upset with the idea of a tent city, but they don't understand how it really is. Guys who have never been here before show up and are impressed with how the services they offer here can make a difference."