Google Voice Offered to U.S. Military Service Members

Google offers Google Voice to U.S. military service members to help them connect with family and friends while overseas in Iraq. Service members can conduct their business during the day and check voicemail messages at night from any Web-enabled device with a browser, helping them stay connected back home. The move comes after Google Voice was rejected by Apple's iPhone App Store, leading to a headache for Apple.

Google Voice, the Web calling management application currently rolling out slowly to the general population, is being extended to active U.S. service members Aug. 4.

Starting today, any active U.S. service member with a .mil e-mail address can sign up for a Google Voice account here and start using the free service within a day.

Google Voice routes calls to users' home and work landlines and mobile phones via one single number, helping users more easily manage their phone communications at a time when juggling voicemail boxes from several phones has become unwieldy. The service also features free SMS, automatic voicemail transcription and cheap international calling.

The news was delivered via a Google blog post by U.S. Army Sgt. Dale Sweetnam, a journalist who is working with Google's communications team this year through the U.S. Army's "Training with Industry" Program.

Sweetnam said he spent 13 months in Iraq, flying in Black Hawk helicopters over Balad and Baghdad to generate news coverage about his fellow soldiers. During that time, he noted it was not easy to stay in touch with friends and family because he would call home at the end of the day and nobody was there to answer.

Sweetnam said having a single number and an easy way to retrieve messages from loved ones can be invaluable for serviceman on the move:

""When you deploy, your life is put on hold. While you live and work in a different world, everyone else moves on with life back home. Your family and friends keep moving, and this sometimes means it's just not possible for them to stay awake until 2 a.m. to receive a phone call. Calling Iraq or Afghanistan is seldom an option. Google Voice provides a solution to some of these problems. ... Loved ones can call to leave messages throughout the day, and then when that service member visits an Internet trailer, all the messages are right there. It's like a care package in audio form." "

Sweetnam said service members can set up an account before they deploy. Families can also set up accounts for their service members who have already deployed.

As much as Google Voice may be making life easier for U.S. soldiers, it's the root of some of Apple's hardships right now after the computer and consumer device maker banned the application for duplicating some of the features of its iPhone several weeks ago.

The news came to light after third-party Google Voice apps were summarily punted from iPhone App Store, prompting an outcry among the developers and a broad swath of negative media coverage.

Now the Federal Communications Commission is looking into the matter, wondering why Apple banned Google Voice and whether lone iPhone carrier AT&T had anything to do with it.

Yesterday, Google CEO Eric Schmidt stepped down from Apple's board of directors. While Apple CEO Steve Jobs cited competition between Google's Android mobile operating system and iPhone, and Google's forthcoming Chrome operating system and Apple's Mac OS X as the reasons for Schmidt stepping down, many experts believe the Google Voice brouhaha was to blame.