Spotlight: Iridium Phones Assist Guardsmen

By | August 9, 2004 | Feature

“Good samaritans” appear to be the latest marketing focus for Iridium Satellite LLC. The Bethesda, Md.-based satellite voice services company signed an agreement with Stratos Global to provide 80 phones to the 81st Armor Brigade from the Washington State National Guard deployed in Iraq. Six phones already are in use to allow the guardsmen stay in touch with their families back home.

“Operation Call Home,” a non-profit organization based in Toppenish, Wash., launched a campaign to buy Iridium satellite telephones for the 3,000 mobilized guardsmen. The group will pre-pay for the calls to avoid having the guardsmen incur any expense.

The initiative, approved by the Coalition Communications Command and the Washington National Guard, involved Iridium and Stratos arranging to give Operation Call Home a discounted price for the phones and service. Operation Call Home’s goal is to raise $1.2 million to buy another 74 phones. With 80 phones in service, the Washington National Guard 81st Armor Brigade would be able to give one to each of its platoons.

“We recognize the critical importance of communicating with loved ones,” said James Davison, an independent insurance agent who is the volunteer executive director of Operation Call Home. He founded the tax-exempt organization that operates under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and his son Michael is serving in Iraq as a platoon sergeant with the Brigade.

The price paid for each phone and an accompanying 3,000 minutes is $3,500, Davison said, adding, “We’ve been adding minutes as the program has gone on.” Close to 6,000 minutes have been added thus far at a rate of roughly $1 each. Each $10 donation the group receives will allow a guardsman to call home from Iraq for 10 minutes. Donations can be made online by using a credit card with the organization’s PayPal account.

According to Davison, the quality of the Iridium phone calls is better than calls made at the established AT&T [T] calling centers that charge $1 minute to call home. The AT&T centers reportedly require a three-hour wait in line to place a call.

The six initial Iridium phones were sent to the commander of the 81st Brigade, who then determined which units would receive the limited number of available phones.

“We’d like to do it for the entire armed forces over there,” Davison said during a phone interview with Satellite News.

(Editor’s note: To learn more about this initiative, go to http://www.platoonphone.com or send an e-mail message to donations@platoon.com.) (James Davison, Operation Call Home, 866/442-5837; Liz DeCastro, Iridium Satellite LLC, 301/571-6257)

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