Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Prepaid Phone Cards (and more) for Our Troops

From Hugh Hewitt's site today (Mr. Hewitt was posting from an email sent to him):

"The number ONE request at Walter Reed hospital is phone cards. The government doesn't pay long distance phone charges and these wounded soldiers are rationing their calls home. Many will be there throughout the holidays.
Really support our troops --Send phone cards of any amount to:
Medical Family Assistance Center
Walter Reed Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20307-5001
They say they need an "endless" supply of these -- any amount even $5 is greatly appreciated. Walmart has good prices on AT&T cards, Sams Club is even better, if you are a member."
Actually, prepaid phone cards are much desired by all our troops, wherever they are. I had read that AT&T prepaid phone cards were best to send to our overseas troops, but didn't understand why until I did a bit of internet-research, and here is my best understanding of what I found. (Please correct me, someone, if I am misunderstanding this):
1.) It seems that not all calling cards are equal: there is a difference between the rates (cost per minute) for "International" and "Domestic" calling cards, and even a difference between "units" and "minutes" among various types of calling cards. There is even a different kind of calling card required for "ship to shore" calls from most U.S. ships!
2.) In Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, the military "phone centers" to which our troops have access have phone service provided by AT&T. Some other types of cards might (or might not) work, but an AT&T prepaid phone card definitely will. The Military Exchange has negotiated a special low price with AT&T for these global calls, but not with other companies. These negotiated rates seem to be based on "units", rather than minutes. There seems to be some formula whereby "minutes" (on minute-types cards) is converted into "units", which are then applied to the cost of an actual phone call (there is an explanation and a chart on the first website listed below). This can get confusing when you have different rates from different companies, so this is probably why we are advised it is best to send AT&T prepaid phone cards, especially ones designed to be used for our military (see websites below).
3.) Don't worry too much about the cards you send to Walter Reed Medical Center (see above), because "domestic" cards from AT&T should work just fine.
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service features two programs, "Help Our Troops Call Home" and "Gifts from the Homefront". Any person or organization may buy Military Exchange Calling Cards through the "Help Our Troops Call Home" program. These are the AT&T cards specifically designed for our troops serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. One card costs from $14.99 (plus 37 cents shipping) for a 200-unit phone card, up to $39.00 (plus 37 cents shipping) for a 550-unit card. The cards are available in multiples, and as special cards for businesses or groups to order (imprinted with logo, etc.) This site also sells the special "ship to shore" cards mentioned above. Cards may be sent to you, to a specific service person (if you know name/address), or to an anonymous "Any Service Person". You can even choose which of several groups will distribute your "Any Service Person" card (for example, American Red Cross, Air Force Aid Society, Fisher House, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, or USO) when you order the card. (This is the site featuring the chart and discussion of the difference between minutes/units/various rates, etc.)
The AAFES also allows you to buy and send gift certificates through their "Gifts from the Homefront" program. These gift certificates may be used by our troops, or their families, to buy things at any local military exchange (BX/PX), through the Exchange Catalog, or the Exchange Online Store. Again, this may be sent to a specific individual, or to "Any Service Person".
AT&T has links to help you buy their prepaid phone cards (imagine that!). The company recently announced it has donated over $6 million in phone cards to our troops, and lowered the per-minute rate of ship-to-shore calling by 50%. They now offer prepaid internet access with CyberZone Gift Cards and Accounts ,which can be used at certain bases in Germany, Kuwait and the U.S. Not all troops will have access to a AT&T CyberZone internet center, but locations and details are available on the website.