Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Internet Video Service Connects Families and Troops

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Internet Video Service Connects Families and Troops

Article excerpt

Before this month, Jason Witte wouldn't hear from his brother for five or six weeks at a time. Calls from Fort Worth, Texas, to Iraq were just too expensive, he says.

"It was hard letting so much time pass in between talks," says Mr. Witte, whose twin brother, Army Capt. Jeremy Witte, is serving his second tour in Iraq this holiday season. "He's my brother and my best friend, but I rarely got to hear his voice."

But now, despite the distance, they see one another three times a week. The Wittes connect through, a live Internet video service. With a video stream of Captain Witte on one side and a simple webcam hooked up the family laptop stateside, the brothers can talk face to face once again.

"Having served in the Army for five years, I know it's tough to be apart from your family during the holidays," says John Ham, one of the website's founders. "Talking to your family is great, but actually seeing them is huge."

Ustream is free and open to everyone, but the company has taken special pride in connecting military families to their loved ones serving abroad. This Christmas - the first since this young California start-up launched - Ustream has donated webcams to the families of the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, an Army Reserve unit currently deployed in Iraq.

Since the site went live in March, hundreds of military families have logged on to share video chats with soldiers abroad - including the Wittes, who are not part of the 316th.

While Ustream's audience is far broader than the Army, the site grew from military roots. Mr. Ham and cofounder Brad Hunstable met while they were cadets at West Point. The company's new CEO, Chuck Wallace, is a former Air Force instructor. And former four-star Army general Wesley Clark serves on Ustream's advisory board.

What started as a way to connect buddies stationed around the world evolved into a site hosting professional video shorts, amateur wedding clips, live birthday party streams, and 1 million viewers a month, says Mr. …

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