Merry Christmas, Mom: Ustream links soldiers with home

Start-up that enables people to broadcast live video over the Net sends Webcams to families of soldiers in Iraq to bring them a little closer together for the holidays.

Ustream cofounders Brad Hunstable and John Ham as West Point cadets in 1998 The U.S. Army

To many Americans with family members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, the most wished-for holiday gift is simply a visit with their far-off loved ones.

Ustream.TV, a start-up that lets people stream live video to the Web, is planning to help military families connect through the Internet this holiday season.

The company has given Webcams to people who have family stationed in Iraq, so they can access the Ustream service and take part in a video chat.

Ustream, headquartered in Los Altos, Calif., has a strong military background. Co-founders John Ham and Brad Hunstable met each other while attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The former cadets reached the rank of captain before leaving the Army.

Frank Caufield, co-founder of heavyweight venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is an investor in the year-old company and is also a West Point grad.

Wesley Clark, a former four-star Army general, is a member of Ustream's advisory board.

Ham and Hunstable last February Ustream

"Having served five years and being separated from my family for a year, I know what it's like to be away from home during the holidays," Ham told CNET on Thursday. "Military families sacrifice so much so their loved ones can serve their country. We're doing what we can to make a difference."

Initially, Ustream intended to send Webcams to soldiers in Iraq as well as their families. But Army officials nixed the idea for security reasons, according to an Ustream spokeswoman.

Soldiers already equipped with a Webcam will be able to broadcast themselves to their families at the same time their families will be visible to them. Service members without cameras can still watch on their computer monitors and communicate with loved ones through instant message or telephone.

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