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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 4 years ago

Budget losses prompt closing of Internet mail delivery to Marines

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The MotoMail system, based in Ormond Beach, delivered letters to Marines stationed in combat zones for nearly a decade.

BY WAYNE GRANT | STAFF WRITER

MotoMail, an Ormond Beach-based system that delivered mail via the Internet to Marines in combat zones for eight years, was cancelled Oct 1. Shrinking budgets and reduced troop placements were cited by the U.S. Marine Corps as factors, but a lot of local parents are unhappy.

Asked about reduced deployment in Afghanistan, Kathy Newell said, “That’s bull. You go on the Department of Defense website and you’ll see that there are soldiers getting killed. There is still a big need.”

Newell, originally from Gainesville and now living in North Carolina, has a son-in-law in the Marines and a son who, as a Navy corpsman, is deployed with Marine units.

“It was a little piece of home for the Marine,” she said. “Can you imagine being in a place where everyone hates you and wants to kill you?”

Christopher Schultheiss, the inventor of the system who now lives in Flagler Beach, said at the peak there were more than 70,000 transmissions per month and, just before cancellation, there were 8,000 per month.

“Quantico has received a lot of letters wanting to know why it stopped,” he said. “This system delivered over 3 million printed letters from family and friends.”

Schultheiss, 66, is a lifelong entrepreneur who developed the mail-delivery idea after selling a satellite TV magazine he co-founded in the early 1990s.

Murdoch Morrison, who managed the system for Schultheiss, said that in MotoMail, a letter would be sent over the Internet to a machine at a Marine base that printed and folded it. It was then hand-delivered along with other supplies to Marines in forward positions.

After cancellation was announced, many comments were posted on the MotoMail website including the following.

Evelina Aparicio: “Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease keep MotoMail! It's a great venue (for) them (to) communicate with their loved ones! Don't ruin it for them!”

Diane Camplin: “Please keep MotoMail. To discontinue this service will break too many hearts. Morale would be down both from Marines and their families. Thank you for your kind consideration to keep this alive for us.”

Senders were able to visit the MotoMail website and find out when a letter was printed and delivered, Newell added.

“That was really cool,” she said.

She said a friend of hers had a son who was killed in action. They found a MotoMail letter in his pocket.

“It meant so much to them,” she said.

The Marines who received MotoMail letters were away from telephone and computers. Morrison said the MotoMail system was safer than email because the messages were encrypted until they were printed out.

“The email system the military uses is no safer than the email you use at home,” he said. “Often in areas of danger, there are restrictions on email for that reason. MotoMail is a secure method to communicate.”

Schultheiss said a similar service called "ebluey," which he initiated with the British Armed Forces, has been renewed for the foreseeable future.

“It seems the Brits understand the value of morale goes beyond firepower,” Schultheiss said.

Morrison has hopes that MotoMail will be revived, but Schultheiss isn’t as confident.

“I’ve worked with the military long enough to know how hard it is to turn a decision around,” he said.

Morrison said they were looking at other uses for the MotoMail system but their “heart and soul" has been poured into getting mail to Marines.

Schultheiss said he was glad he had the opportunity to help thousands of service men and women in both Iraq and Afghanistan stay in touch with their friends and families.

“There were numerous incidents in which deployed Marines saw their first photo of a new born baby within hours after their birth via the MotoMail service,” he said.

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