The walls of 21-year-old Charles Pergament's room are lined corner to corner with photographs of family and friends. This is no college dorm, though; it's Charles' living quarters in Al-Basrah,... Iraq, where he is stationed as a transportation movement specialist with the 840th Transportation Battalion. The photos are among the dozens he receives from his wife, Kristin, who prints them out from friends' Facebook profiles and includes them in care packages to Charles.
Charles and Kristin were married on Dec. 28, 2009, but didn't have much time to enjoy wedded bliss. Only a few weeks later, his unit was deployed to Iraq to assist with the draw-down operation. To bridge the gap formed by thousands of miles, the young couple keeps in touch through Facebook Chat and Inbox messages. Kristin says she misses her husband every day, but "our communication has made this deployment a little easier."
In addition to connecting with his wife, family and friends, Charles also has found Facebook to be helpful while he's overseas.
"A team of mine got separated on a base in Iraq," wrote Charles in an email. "I went to a (military-operated) cafe, hopped on Facebook, and saw (that) my squad leader was online. I messaged him our location, and within 10 minutes we were regrouped."
A Gold Star Wife
While many military families use Facebook to communicate with their loved ones abroad, others turn to it as a source of support after the loss of a soldier. Katie Hubbard, the 26-year old widow to Command Sgt. Maj. James W. Hubbard Jr., has benefited greatly from the comfort she has received from Facebook friends since her husband's death.
James was an active military serviceman from October 1972 to September 1980, then he joined the Army Reserves. After a deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom, James returned home in 2005, when he met Katie. The pair were married in February 2007, before James was briefly deployed again to Kosovo. Soon after returning stateside, he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia that apparently stemmed from uranium exposure during his tour of duty in Iraq. Sadly, despite immediate treatment, James passed away on May 21, 2009.
Among the friends Katie connects with on Facebook are fellow Gold Star Wives, the widows of deceased military members. Though she has never met many of the women face-to-face, their shared grief builds a trusting and understanding community. Katie cites one friend in particular, Glenda, as an inspirational figure. Though widowed long ago when her husband died in the Vietnam War, Glenda has helped Katie find support.
"I've learned a lot from our conversations," says Katie, "and even though we were widowed almost 41 years apart and in different circumstances, the grief is so similar."
Katie and Glenda plan to meet for the first time this weekend, when they will commemorate Memorial Day with a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Band of Brothers
Luis Rodriguez is immensely proud of his older brother, Shak Wak. A highly decorated first sergeant, Shak has seen 18 years of near constant combat, first with the U.S. Marines and now with the U.S. Army. He is, as Luis wrote, "a soldier's soldier." Shak is currently on his fifth tour of duty in Iraq, but unlike previous deployments, this is the first he has undertaken with an important tool: a Facebook account.
Luis convinced his brother to sign up on Facebook so they could communicate more easily while he is overseas. Now, they share pictures and videos of family events to keep Shak in touch with home.
Shak is careful to follow the military's security rules, known as OPSEC guidelines, so he doesn't share many details, but Luis says the little updates mean the world to him and his family. Luis particularly loves getting real-time information from his brother on Facebook Chat.
"In that instant, I know he is OK, back at the (base) and probably getting some rest and some food," Luis said.
Luis, a writer, fondly remembers crafting a poem dedicated to Shak, then posting it as a note on Facebook and tagging his brother.
"Within hours, he had read and responded to it," Luis recalled. "Knowing that I can reach out and speak to him like that is priceless."
Sara, an intern on the communications team, is so grateful to all the men and women serving her country.