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Internet cafe clicks with troops in Tikrit

By Alphonso Van Marsh

These members of the U.S. Army's First Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, are the first online at Raider Base's new Internet facility.
These members of the U.S. Army's First Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, are the first online at Raider Base's new Internet facility.

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TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- There are no lattes or biscotti at Camp Raider Base's new Internet Cafe, but the troops don't mind. They are getting a taste of home.

The U.S. Army's First Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, opened the 20-computer Internet station in Tikrit Wednesday to a short line of U.S. service members waiting to sign in, log on and get in touch with loved ones.

"I'm e-mailing my wife Kelly and my daughter Ashley," says Cpl. Timothy Allensmith of Killeen, Texas. "I just want to let them know I'm safe, I'm going good and to tell them how much I miss them."

The bare-boned Internet room makes use of empty warehouse space on Raider Base -- part of the U.S. Army's renovation of a palace complex belonging to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Military officials say Army engineers built the infrastructure and local Iraqi contractors worked on the wiring.

The Internet stations are wood cubicles with folding chairs and miniature golf-style putting green carpet on the floor. One of the project managers, 1st Sgt. Richard McCord, said the computers and technology -- ISDN connections beamed by satellite to an Internet service provider -- are first-rate.

"It's a high-speed Internet service. [Troops] can do online chats, they can do instant messaging. There's a printer so they can print off whatever they need," he says.

The U.S. government-funded Internet station provides the online service for free. Along with prohibitions, such as surfing certain adults-only Web sites, troops are also cautioned against discussing classified information, missions, redeployment specifics and other operational security issues.

Spec. Zoila Gonzalez logged on to use her credit card online. "I'm buying phone minutes to call my mother in Texas," she says.

She'll soon be able to use her phone card at a new military telephone facility under construction next door.

Military officials said there are "hundreds" of service members at the base, but wouldn't give a specific total. Officials said when there's a wait at the Internet Cafe, the troops will be limited to 30-minute sessions.

Lt. Jerome Lyles, the company executive officer in charge of maintenance and supplies at Camp Raider, says before the cafe's opening, Raider Base was getting by on just two computers with slow Internet connections. He says the troops deserve the upgrade.

"We're in Iraq; I think this is well worth it. The conditions we are living in, going out on the roads every day -- this is something that can take your mind off [the war]," says Lyles. "Well, I wouldn't say take your mind off it, but to relax a little bit."

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