USS MAKIN ISLAND, At Sea - Several Sailors and Marines deployed aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) were able to speak face-to-face with their families Dec. 29, using video teleconferencing (VTC) technology between the ship and the Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) in San Diego.
While deployed halfway around the world and many time zones from home, dozens of Sailors and Marines have been taking advantage of the VTC program in order to spend some quality time with loved ones.
"Having this type of program available is a definite morale boost for the crew," said Information Systems Technician 1st Class Robert Ortloff, who manages the VTC program for the ship. "Talking on the phone is good, but being able to see your family is much better."
Ortloff said the program has been very successful and that during one of the first VTC sessions of the deployment, a Marine was able to see his one-week-old daughter for the first time.
"We started working on this back in July and didn't get a chance to try it out until we deployed," said Ortloff. "This last VTC [Dec. 29] was our fifth since deploying, and it seems to be working great."
During a dedicated four-hour VTC time block, each Sailor or Marine who signed up is allowed 15 minutes with their family. All families take part in the VTC from the FFSC at Naval Base San Diego.
Ortloff said Makin Island's VTC program is open to all Sailors and Marines and is currently offered weekly, but may become a twice-a-week event if the demand increases. Participants are also encouraged to rotate weeks when signing up in order to give their shipmates the same opportunity.
Lt. j.g. James Robinson, a VTC participant, said he hopes the Navy will continue to provide Sailors a way to have some family time at sea.
"I believe that this program will only expand because of new technology and the ever-increasing demand for the product," said Robinson. "It can really be a great comfort because it allows a near real-time interaction with loved ones."
"There is a connection that cannot be expressed efficiently over the internet or a written letter home," added Robinson. "It is a tremendous boost to morale for us to see our children grow or hear the voice of a loved one."
Makin Island and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit departed San Diego Nov. 14 and are currently deployed to the 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), supporting the nation's maritime strategy.
Makin Island is the first U.S. Navy ship to deploy using a hybrid-electric propulsion system. By using this unique propulsion system, the Navy expects over the course of the ship's life cycle, to see fuel savings of more than $250 million, proving the Navy's commitment to energy awareness and conservation.
The 7th Fleet AOR includes more than 52 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian oceans, stretching from the international date line to the east coast of Africa, and from the Kuril Islands in the north to the Antarctic in the south.
More than half of the world's population lives within the 7th Fleet AOR. In addition, more than 80 percent of that population lives within 500 miles of the oceans, which means this is an inherently maritime region.