Yes, I’m aware of how many gear reviews are already out there on the internet, but remember, I like to focus on how to start your career.  There’s a lot more high speed guys than me who you should listen to when it comes to what backpack, knife, or gun you should buy.  My two cents?  Get a bag that holds all your stuff, some kind of pocketknife to open MREs, and keep whatever gun you have clean.  I’ll stick to what I know best:  the basics.  Skype falls into this category.  It’s one piece of equipment that everyone needs to be familiar with before they deploy, since it makes communicating with the folks back home a whole lot easier. 

                Skype is a free software download that allows users to make telephone calls over the internet.  Calls to other registered Skype users are always free, and it’s probably the best way to keep in touch with your buddies.  The free services also includes instant messaging, video chats through your webcam, and file transfers.  Registration for Skype only takes a few minutes, once you’ve provided an email address and added your name to their contact directory.

                The best feature about Skype is its cost.  You can buy credits in advance, almost like using a pre-paid cell phone, and make calls back home to traditional landlines or cell phones for only a few cents per minute.  Compared to the cost of using your personal cell phone overseas, or buying pre-paid phone cards for the local 3rd world provider, using Skype will be a bargain over the long term.

                What I like best about the Skype service is that you can subscribe to set up an incoming phone line for only a few dollars each month.  When you choose this option, Skype will issue you a local USA phone number for whatever area code you want.  Your friends and family will be able to call your computer directly just as easily as making a local phone call.  And if you move around a lot and have to unplug your laptop when you’re on the road, there’s also a voicemail feature that will record all of your missed calls and pick up any messages.

                Finally, for the ultimate in comfort, Skype also sells several phones that are compatible with their service, including some wireless models.  They hook directly into your computer’s USB port and usually have a range of at least 50 yards in clear weather.  This frees you up from having to sit down in front of your computer for hours at a time while you’re talking to folks back home, so you can sit out on the deck or walk around camp.  Except for all the Hesco barriers and concrete bunkers nearby, you might actually feel like you’re still at home.

                Now that you know about this technology you’ll need to survive, keep in mind that there’s an unwritten code of conduct when using Skype.  Most importantly, don’t be a bandwidth hog!  If you’re in a location with weak internet, hold off on the webcams and don’t let your calls run very long.  Everyone else wants a chance to talk to their family, too.  Also, if you’re sharing a common area with other people, please use a headset or phone accessory!   No one wants to hear your wife complain about how much hell your kids are raising since you’ve been gone.

                 Skype isn’t the only service of this type:  You might want to check out Yahoo! Messenger and Vonage as well.  They offer similar services, and the quality is pretty much the same.  Whatever option you choose, make sure to check out all the features and the terms of service before you put any money down.  Also, make your choice, download the software, and get everything running BEFORE you leave the country.  I know we’re bringing democracy to the world and everything, but you won’t find any Best Buys at Bagram AFB…