FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Family members whose loved ones attend Basic Combat Training with the 193rd Infantry Brigade now have a new way to communicate with the unit. The brigade started using an online chat room to answer questions about Family Day and graduation.

The brigade has conducted three chats to date and plans to conduct one a week before graduation for each of the brigade's five battalions.

"It's really about telling what the Army is. We spend a lot of money transforming a civilian into a Soldier. We fail to understand that we're not only transforming a civilian into a Soldier, we're transforming civilian families into Army families," said Col. Drew Meyerowich, commander of the 193rd.

Family members of the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment asked questions ranging from getting vehicle passes to where to eat on post and included more unusual questions, such as if Soldiers can get married on Family Day. The questions were answered by the battalion's command team and by representatives from different organizations, such as family readiness groups, Army Community Services, AAFES, the Directorate of Emergency Services and Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

"The intent of the chat room is to really showcase all the things that Fort Jackson does, all the people who work hard at Fort Jackson to provide (the families) a world-class graduation week," Meyerowich said.

Ben Schoofs, whose job as content manager for the 193rd includes setting up the chat room and monitoring the battalions' Facebook pages, said the family members are notified on the battalion's Facebook page about the date and time of the chat room. They then have to download DoD certifications to their computers and a special software to be able to log on.

"We get a lot of feedback, a lot of 'thank you's," Schoofs said.

More than 100 family members from across the United States -- and in one case from abroad -- have participated in each of the first two chats.

"In one hour, we managed to talk to (people in) 35 states in the United States and really send the message that we're not just about developing Soldiers. We're also about developing Soldier families. What a win-win," Meyerowich said.

Bonnie McCall, the 193rd information officer, said the brigade bought web cameras and microphones to make the chat room set-up possible. In addition, the brigade's conference room was upgraded with additional network drops to accommodate all the computers needed to conduct the chat.
McCall, who spent eight years in the Army and went to basic training at Fort Jackson, said she thought the chat room is a wonderful idea.

"I was in basic training, having to try to call my family," she said "It would've been easier for them to connect and get the answer directly."