Marine unit sets up friendly Web base

ABOARD THE USS BELLEAU WOOD—The more than 1,000 men and women of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked on this amphibious ship operating in the Persian Gulf have turned their home page on the World Wide Web (www.usmc.mil/31meu) into a powerful family communication tool.

Though the 31st MEU has been far away from its home base of Okinawa, Japan, for more than four months, the Web ensures that family and friends—as well as the media—are but a mouse click away from important news about the unit, according to public affairs officer Lt. Kristen Lasica, who uses e-mail to update the home page, which is housed half a world away. Last week, Lasica used the Web to quickly disseminate the most important news of this deployment: the date of the 31st MEU's return to Okinawa (March. 14), a bit of information that in pre-Web days would have taken days to reach home.

Lasica also has enlisted the 31st MEU chaplain, Navy Lt. Stephen Lee, in a project to deliver personalized greetings from the embarked Marines via the Web page. Lee roams the ship with a digital camera and a microphone, taking pictures as well as recording quick sound bites in MIDI files for posting on the Web.

Lee, who said he does between 20 and 30 candid photos and five- to 10-second mini-interviews a week, called the sound files a boost to family morale. While the sailors and Marines aboard the Belleau Wood have access to e-mail, Lee said the ability to post sound files on the 31st MEU Web page enhances communication. "Families really crave verbal communication.... They really want to hear that voice."

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