Amidst the latest technology on the Annual meeting of the Union of the US Army In Washington, DC, military officials said Tuesday that many soldiers and their families still lack reliable internet access and other technical basics.
“Many on active duty, including those on our guard and reserve components, live in areas of the country where bandwidth is still quite expensive,” said Captain Kimberly Elenberg, director of Joint Force Fitness for the Secretary of State for Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
“While we have amazing tools to use technology to connect with our families, we also need to remember that it is not widely available or affordable. And we have to be open to different ways to stay connected. “
Elenberg’s comments came during a media session of the conference with officials from the Army Health and Medical Emergency Services. The group said executives are still processing many of the lessons and adjustments from the last 19 months of pandemic operations, including things like remote working and online doctor appointments.
“COVID has changed the way many of us have done our jobs and offered our services,” said Dr. Theresa Jackson Santo, director of public health assessment at the Army Public Health Center.
Officials hope to adopt these changes and incorporate them into future personnel services, including educational opportunities and improved medical access.
Much of this, however, will depend on individual families’ access to broadband Internet.
This topic is explored by the Department of Defense’s Building Healthy Military Communities initiative launched last year. Officials are examining living conditions inside and outside the base in seven states – Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oklahoma – to see what challenges exist and where improvements can be made.
Earlier this year, Federal Communications Commission officials announced discounts on monthly Internet access bills and computer upgrades through the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which could benefit thousands of soldiers and families.
However, this program depends on internet availability in the areas around military bases, which can be spotty in rural areas.
In the meantime, Army officials continue to investigate unique stressors for service members and families from the pandemic in hopes of alleviating these issues in the future.
While issues such as changing stations and canceling training were unique to the military community, other broader issues – such as school cancellations and access to family medical care – have been issues across the country.
Officials said they hope to compile a comprehensive list of coronavirus responses and improvements from service members in the coming months.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs, and the White House for Military Times. He has been reporting on Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veteran politics. His work has received numerous awards, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.