Sam Auxier uses free phone cards supplied by the Camp Casey USO to call her husband, Spc. Jason Auxier, who is serving with Headquarters Headquarters Company, 44th Engineers Battalion in Iraq.

Sam Auxier uses free phone cards supplied by the Camp Casey USO to call her husband, Spc. Jason Auxier, who is serving with Headquarters Headquarters Company, 44th Engineers Battalion in Iraq. (Seth Robson / S&S)

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Phone cards donated by folks back home are helping non-command-sponsored wives in Area I stay in touch with their husbands in Iraq serving with the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team (Strike Force), a United Service Organizations official said.

Camp Casey USO director Sally Hall said she recently took delivery of $47,000 worth of phone cards from the U.S. Postal Service, which also has donated stamps to be given to soldiers. The Camp Casey USO has already given away $99,000 worth of phone cards that arrived earlier, she said.

Individuals and organizations in the United States donate the cards, which come in $30, $20 and $8 denominations. Some have notes attached giving the donor’s name and address, and some recipients write back to thank them, Hall said.

When Strike Force prepared to deploy to Iraq last year, the USO gave soldiers from the unit more than 1,000 phone cards. After the unit left in August, phone cards have been provided to the Strike Force soldiers’ spouses in Area I so they can stay in touch with their husbands in Iraq, she said.

“There are about 120 (wives of Strike Force soldiers) left in the country. We give each of them (who asks) four cards every month,” Hall said.

Phone cards also are handed out to soldiers arriving in Area I as part of newcomers’ briefings that occur at Camp Casey and Camp Red Cloud four times a month. About 110 $8 phone cards are given to newcomers in Area I each month, she said.

“The newcomers mostly just use the cards to let their families know they are in South Korea and they are in-processing,” she said.

The USO also gives phone cards to Area I units to reward soldiers for volunteer work at special events and functions. Last month phone cards were provided to 12 Area I organizations, she said.

Because the cards are purchased in the United States, the rate soldiers and their families get calling overseas from South Korea is not very good. Some of the cards last only 10 to 15 minutes for calls from South Korea, Hall said.

“Soldiers tell their families back in the States the card’s PIN number and get them to call back to South Korea, and the cards last about 30 minutes,” she said.

Some spouses gave phone card PINs to their husbands in Iraq, who got a good rate with the cards at phone booths there, she said.

“Many of the husbands (serving in Iraq) have e-mailed to say how appreciative they are for being able to communicate with their wives,” Hall said.

The phone card give-away program’s fame has spread as soldiers talk about it in Iraq. Naval personnel in Okinawa recently requested and received a small number of cards from the Camp Casey USO, she said.

However, the popularity of the phone cards means that demand occasionally outstrips supply, and some units seeking cards have been turned away, Hall said.

“Our capability to give always depends on how many cards we receive each month. Last month we really ran short of cards because of a mail delay,” she said.

USO gives $20 and $30 phone cards to Strike Force’s Rear Detachment at Camp Casey. Some of the cards were used to contact soldiers’ spouses who left for the United States, Russia and the Philippines before the detachment set up a toll-free phone number, officials said.

Rear Detachment commander Maj. John Atkins said the free phone cards are extremely popular with soldiers’ wives.

“Money is pretty tight for low ranking soldiers anyway. When you are non-command sponsored here in South Korea it is even worse, so this has been a real morale booster. For some (wives), it has probably been the only way they have been able to afford to talk to their husbands every month,” he said.

Sam Auxier, whose husband, Spc. Jason Auxier, is serving with Headquarters Headquarters Company, 44th Engineers Battalion in Ramadi, Iraq, said she receives two free phone cards from the Camp Casey USO every two weeks.

The couple was anxious to stay in touch because they had only been married for a few months when Jason Auxier’s unit deployed, she said.

The phone cards enable her to talk with her husband on the telephone three or four times a week, she said.

“He talks about how he is doing and I talk about how I am doing here in South Korea. Without the phone cards, I don’t think we could communicate that much,” she said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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