Any computer user with a modem can send free electronic mail to military personnel in the Persian Gulf through GEnie, a nationwide on-line information service owned by General Electric.
The electronic mail is forwarded to Saudi Arabia, where it's printed, placed in addressed envelopes and delivered by the military postal service.
"The word we're getting is that letters are getting delivered in as little as two days,'' said Chip Chiappone, GEnie's product marketing manager. "People seem thrilled that they don't have to put up with normal mail delays."
The GEnie "Letters From Home" service is available free of charge to anyone with a computer and modem. The user does not have to be a GEnie subscriber, Chiappone said.
To send mail, the computer owner dials one of Genie's local network phone numbers. GEnie's computer will prompt the sender for the information it needs. The message, limited to 40 lines of 80 characters, can be typed on-line or prepared ahead of time with a word processor and transmitted in one piece.
The sender must provide the serviceman's name, rank, Social Security number, ship or military unit and APO or FPO number.
Sending electronic mail requires a computer, a modem (a device that allows computers to communicate by phone) and communications software. Information on local GEnie phone numbers and sign-on procedures is available by voice at 800-638-9636.
Chiappone said the data exchange is being handled by General Electric's data processing and leasing subsidiaries in Saudi Arabia. The mailing equipment was donated by Pitney-Bowes Inc.
He said GEnie's offer has resulted in a "significant number" of messages to those stationed in the Gulf, but he could not provide exact figures. "We've gotten a lot of positive reaction, especially in the last two weeks. We expect more as word gets out," he said.