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Serving in the digital age: Facebook divorces, WiFi snafus

August 12, 2013|By Matt Lindner @mattlindner | For RedEye

Imagine being on the other side of the world, having enemy soldiers trying to kill you and finding out that, while you were in a relationship when you left for battle, you’re not going to be in one when you get home.

“I’d say a solid half of the guys in our unit had relationships and marriages that fell apart via Facebook and electronic communications during our deployment,” said retired Army Spc. Matt Marcus. “You get bad news over Facebook I think a lot easier than you get bad news over a letter.”

“The electronic ‘Dear John” letters,’” retired Army Staff Sgt. Chris Lyke, a 41-year-old Bucktown resident, added with a chuckle. “That hasn’t changed over the years.”

What has changed is how this generation of soldiers keeps in touch with their loved ones.

“We’re probably the first generation of soldiers where to a lesser or greater extent kind of connected when we were out there,” said Marcus, a 33-year-old Ukrainian Village resident.

Much like their civilian counterparts, active-duty soldiers are just as obsessed with checking their Facebook and e-mail. Even on the other side of the world, soldiers remained connected to their civilian lives.

It’s something that, even bad relationship news aside, Marcus said he feels conflicted about.

“It’s great to let your family know that you’re OK, but at the same time, it creates some problems too,” he said. “It can be an added stressor. It’s difficult to try to live the day-to-day overseas, do what you need to do. You’re constantly focused on what you’re doing. You’re in combat and you’re deployed. Now guys are running onto Facebook for five minutes and seeing they’ve got a late car payment or something or that your wife can’t find a babysitter and you’re 10,000 miles away with somebody trying to shoot rockets at you.”

This often leads to a strange phenomenon once platoons returned from one of the more remote outposts in Afghanistan to a bigger base.

“Immediately, half the guys would run to the Chow Hall to try to get some hot food, and the other half of the guys would run to the computer room to get on Facebook or something like that,” Marcus said.

That’s because it wasn’t always available, especially when platoons found themselves in some of the most remote areas of the world.

“For the first three quarters (of our deployment), we were literally on the side of a mountain (in Afghanistan),” Lyke said. “We had outhouses and we slept in tents so we didn’t really have computers other than the military ones. I think the last quarter of the deployment, we got a couple computers, and the line was always six or seven people deep for guys to e-mail and to Facebook what was happening.”

On the rare opportunity they’d get a line to the outside world at one of the most remote outposts, sometimes things would happen to cut it off.

“We had that for a little while at the outpost that we were at until somebody blew up one of the cell phone towers,” Marcus said.

Just because you can communicate instantaneously with someone from 10,000 miles away doesn’t necessarily make that the preferred method of doing it though.

Marcus said he gained a new appreciation for traditional forms of communications while deployed.

“It was the strangest thing,” he said. “I found myself handwriting letters and mailing them back home constantly.”

Doing so helped him better express himself and gave him an outlet he wouldn’t have otherwise had on the battlefield.

“For me, it was taking the time, a thoughtful process of just writing a messy handwritten letter in the middle of the night with a flashlight as opposed to trying to do it on a computer, something like that,” he said. “It just felt more authentic. It was a way to get sort of the day out of me a little bit.”

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