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WASHINGTON — Deployed soldiers hoping for a glimpse of family back home can now send and receive video messages through their Army Knowledge Online account.

The service, geared mainly towards troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, is designed to be simple enough to use with bare-bones equipment downrange. Officials said most cybercafes in theater have Web cams soldiers can use, and the program is designed to work even in low-bandwidth environments.

The decision to give soldiers free video capabilities comes as nonmilitary Web sites have come under greater scrutiny from Army officials.

This summer a 10-man National Guard unit was assigned to survey the Internet for online postings by soldiers that might violate operational security standards. Over the last year, the Army has also released several servicewide messages about blogs and other online postings, which could give combat zone information to the enemy.

Army spokeswoman Margaret McBride said since the video e-mails are connected to soldiers private Army e-mails, the service is not screening the messages before they’re delivered.

But officials are reminding troops using the service that they’re required to follow Defense Department guidelines for acceptable e-mails. McBride said system administrators have been instructed to make sure Web cams aren’t placed in secure or sensitive areas.

In a statement, Gary L. Winkler, director for acquisition and knowledge in the Army Chief Information Office, said project was created because officials are aware of the difficulties soldiers thousands of miles away from home can face.

“Families no longer need to coordinate times to ensure everyone is available to see each other,” he said. “This will help geographically separated families stay closer during deployment.”

Family members must have an active AKO account to view or send videos.

Officials said while the videos were designed for troops in combat zones, active-duty soldiers and reservists stationed anywhere in the world can use the service.

The program debuted at the start of December, just before the holiday season, and more than 3,500 video e-mails were sent in the first week alone, McBride said.

Troops who wish to use the service can find instructions on displayed on their AKO home page, or can consult with the AKO online help desk for more information.


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