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Technology helps family connect over great distance

Staff writer

Despite being separated by nine time zones, Brett and Mary Maloney of rural Florence will find a way to share Valentine’s Day using technology.

Mary is sending him a care package and hoping for a video chat service to be available Monday.

Brett is in Balad, Iraq, working for a private company that provides air reconnaissance for U.S. Army patrols, warning them of roadside bombs and other dangers, Mary said.

Brett was last home in August, and the family has seen him in person twice since he took the job in November 2009.

“Seems like forever,” Mary said. “There are days I’m depressed he’s not here.”

But on those days, she can reach out to him through the Internet, using a video chat service.

“Sometimes I stay up until about 2 o’clock in the morning, because that’s when he’s getting ready for work,” she said.

The ability to video chat has been especially beneficial for 3-year-old Clayton and nearly 2-year-old Maylee. Before communications advances like Skype and the Internet, children with a father working overseas sometimes scarcely knew their fathers, Mary said. But Clayton and Maylee get to see their father’s face and hear his voice on a regular basis.

The technology also allows Brett to be virtually present for special occasions, like Clayton’s third birthday.

But technology can have quirks. Sometimes their connection has a delay of several seconds, which can make conversations difficult. In those situations, the Maloneys sometimes resort to saying “over” when they are done talking, as if using a two-way radio. The practice actually reminds Mary of their courtship.

“When we were dating, he was in the Navy,” she said.

And video chat has recently been unavailable to Brett, so they have resorted to e-mail and phone calls.

“Normally he tries to call me daily to let me know he’s OK,” Mary said. “He is in danger, but not nearly as much as the guys on patrol.”

Brett took the job because he was worried about the possibility of being laid off by Cesna and because he wanted Mary to be able to stay at home with their young children.

He is scheduled to return home March 16. In addition to Clayton and Maylee, the Maloneys have two older daughters, Alicia and Caitlyn, both 15.

Last modified Feb. 10, 2011

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