Local soldier never more than a video call away

Social media and Skype replace letters. Catawba man serving in Afghanistan keeps in touch with family.

CATAWBA — Carl Campbell only got to call home twice during the seven months he was in the Persian Gulf 22 years ago for Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Now, the 41-year-old Army staff sergeant from Catawba is in Afghanistan with the Ohio Army National Guard — and times have changed.

“Here,” he said, “I can call home a couple times a week. Anytime I want.”

Technology has radically changed the way deployed service members keep in touch with their loved ones back home.

The letter — that vital link between the frontlines and the homefront from the Revolutionary War onward — is being replaced by social media and by Skype, the Internet program that allows for free calls with real-time video.

“I couldn’t imagine what it would’ve been like all those years ago,” said Campbell’s wife, Mandy, a Catawba native. “I don’t know what I would’ve done with myself.”

The Campbells, who’ve been married for four years and are raising five kids together from previous marriages, are able to talk almost daily via Skype.

“It’s very comforting,” Mandy Campbell said. “It’s awesome.”

Carl Campbell has been deployed with the Guard since last year and isn’t expected to be home until September.

A 24-year Army veteran, he spent the first seven months of this deployment providing security at a military hospital in Kabul for the Afghan doctors and nurses there.

“The other deployments I’ve been on,” he explained, “the Internet didn’t exist.”

Being able to see and talk to his kids has made the deployment easier for the children, even though he’s still missed baseball games and ballet recitals.

“It’s been really cool for the kids to see him,” Mandy Campbell said.

Skype, which can be downloaded for free, has emerged as such a phenomenon that Microsoft acquired it last year for $8.5 billion.

Even still, it’s not perfect.

“Sometimes,” Mandy Campbell said, “the connection’s a little stinky.”

And, for all the advances, technology still is lacking in one major area.

“There are days when you want to reach through the computer and touch him,” she said, “but can’t.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0352 or andrew.mcginn@coxinc.com