Local Connects With Family Stationed in Germany

Published 5:06 pm Friday, January 9, 2009

When Sylvan Mutschler spent 29 years in the Air Force, starting back in the Viet Nam era, the best contact he could have with his family was by letter. And even letters could be hard to come by when his platoon moved around on rescue missions as much as his did back then.

Things are very different these days. On Monday, Mutschler spent more than an hour in Eltville, Germany with his daughter, Mindy Whitten, and four little granddaughters, Katrina, 9, Shelby, 7, Reagan, 2, and Emmi, age one, via the Internet at the Demopolis Library. His daughter is currently living in Germany with the girls, while her husband, Ben, is deployed to Katar in the Middle East. With Sylvan and his wife Kate living in Linden, the family is separated by thousands of miles spread through three different counties.

Still, with today’s technology, the Mutschlers and the Whittens stay closely connected — so close, in fact, that the Alabama grandpa can receive real time kisses from little Emmi even though they can’t actually touch each other.

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“It makes a big difference,” Mutschler said after his Internet visit at the Demopolis Library. “It’s nice to see each other.”

The private visits with his family are courtesy of the government through 109 libraries throughout Alabama and other states. Using special funds, nearly every library now has the ability to arrange teleconferences with military family and friends no matter where they may be based.

“It’s a great morale booster,” Mutschler said. “My wife is over there now with Mindy and the girls and she’s been over there for a couple of months. She’ll be back in February.”

The library’s free service to these families is very welcome. Even those military family members who don’t have personal Internet can access family and friends using a computer web cam program called Skype.

Demopolis Librarian Morgan Grimes said the system is very easy to use, even for those who aren’t as familiar with computer technology. There is no limit to the amount of time interacting with these military family members and friends and there is no need for an appointment, Grimes said. The web cam system is available whenever the library is open, and according to the librarian, “I would be willing to work with anyone on the time frame if they needed to access the Internet after hours.”

For now, Mutschler is pretty much the only user of the web cam in Demopolis. While Marengo may not have a large population with deployed family and friends, Grimes is certain that once the word gets around that these computers are available, there will be others.

The technology isn’t just for those military family and friends in combat, either. The computer is available to any military family or friend with loved-ones stationed any where in the U.S. or the world.

And when the technology isn’t needed for military, Grimes said she is making it available to local businesses who need to teleconference and she expects to make use of the technology herself to avoid costly travel on occasion.

Mutschler said he would encourage everyone in the county to take advantage of the technology. He said if this technology had been available for his family and him many years ago, it would have made a huge difference. “We were separated a lot of the time,” Mutschler said. “There was nothing but letters. If we had had something like this I might not have been such a stranger to them because I was gone half the time. When the kids are little and you’ve been deployed for a year, hey may not even remember you.”

Mutschler added, “When you can look at your children on screen, that’s a big morale booster. Now, I’ve four little girls in Germany, but I get to see them blow kisses and it’s just fantastic.”