At least two of the country's leading on-line information services are offering fast and inexpensive ways for personal computer users to send holiday messages to U.S. servicemen and servicewomen stationed in the Persian Gulf.
Genie, a subsidiary of General Electric Corp., allows anyone with a computer and a modem -- not just Genie subscribers -- to send electronic mail free to recipients in the gulf region. The letters, up to a maximum of 40 lines, will be transmitted to General Electric's Information Service facilities in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where they will be printed on paper with special letterheads and delivered the same day to military postal officials.
Chip Chiappone, manager of product marketing for Genie in Rockville, Md., said the messages could reach the recipient in as little as two days.
To send a Letters From Home message, first connect with the Genie service over a local phone access number. To find the local number in your community and to get specific instructions on how to send a Letters From Home message, call Genie at (800) 638-9636.
The sender must know the recipient's name, rank and branch of the armed forces, the military identification number (the same as the Social Security number), the unit or ship and the APO or FPO number.
The free service will be available until Feb. 28 but might be extended, Chiappone said.
The other Persian Gulf electronic-mail service is Operation Friendship. It is jointly offered by Compuserve Inc., a division of H&R; Block Inc., and Graphnet Inc. of Teaneck, N.J. The service is available only to Compuserve's estimated 725,000 members.
Unlike the Genie program, Operation Friendship allows messages up to 100 lines long to general addresses in the gulf, not just to specific soldiers. Compuserve's 22-cent-a-minute connection charges apply, but there is no surcharge for postage or printing costs.
The Compuserve letters are sent to Graphnet, where they are printed and turned over to the military for air shipment to Saudi Arabia. Although this is slightly slower than Genie, the Compuserve service still gets letters into the soldiers' hands in about a week, said Debra Young, a Compuserve spokeswoman.
Compuserve can be reached at (614) 457-8600.