Soldier's father takes action over cell phone bill NATICK -- A Natick soldier making $400 a week in Iraq knows exactly how much it costs to reach out and by ps94506


									Soldier’s father takes action over cell phone bill
By Laura Crimaldi / News Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2004

NATICK -- A Natick soldier making $400 a week in Iraq knows exactly how much it costs to reach out and
touch someone: $7,624.
  That's what Army Reserve Sgt. Bryan Fletcher's cell phone bills looked like after seven weeks of calls
home from Camp Cedar, a remote base near Nasiriyah.
   While the 25-year-old soldier already wrote a check for $3,911 for calls made between Nov. 21 and Dec.
19 of last year, his father wants T-Mobile to cut his son some slack.
   "It seems a little unfair, given his situation. If this was a businessman spending $1.50 a minute to
generate business and profits, that's one thing. This is just a soldier over there trying to find a way to call
home while he's on an extended deployment," said Jim Fletcher from his Natick home.
   Bryan Fletcher has been in Iraq since last May when the Army Reserve's 439th QuarterMaster Company
crossed the Kuwaiti border.
    For the first eight months of his deployment, Fletcher went without a cell phone -- relying on two-hour
trips to Tallil Air Force Base to wait in line for a telephone line.
   During a two-week trip home over Thanksgiving, Fletcher decided to reactivate the T-Mobile phone he
had used while stationed at Fort Drum in New York.
    "He thought it was going to work the same way it was in the U.S.," said Fletcher's father. "Maybe he was
in a hurry. There's no question he didn't ask all the right questions."
   Fletcher was not charged a dime for the calls he made in Massachusetts, but after three days of service
overseas Fletcher had rung up a $549 bill in calls and messages to his family and girlfriend in Shrewsbury,
according to account records provided to the News by Jim Fletcher.
   The charges reflect 44 messages and 379 minutes of talk time between Dec. 1 and 3, the cell phone bill
   Fletcher said his son was advised by a T-Mobile customer relations representative that his cell phone
plan included a block of free minutes, free messaging and some roaming charges that he was willing to pay.
   He was not counting on a $1.49 per minute charge for all outgoing calls.
   "I'm sure he wasn't aware because I'm sure he wouldn't have done it," said Jim Fletcher. "I can't imagine
that they explained the plan to him."
    On Jan. 9, T-Mobile suspended the cell phone account, but a few weeks later, a 38-page bill for $3,712
arrived in the mailbox for messages and calls made from Dec. 16 through Jan. 8.
   That is when Fletcher started writing letters on his son's behalf.
   The mobile communication company did take action. In a letter dated March 15, T-Mobile Customer
Relations issued a "courtesy" credit of $501.49 for international messaging. The letter, which Fletcher also
provided to the News, said the other charges are valid.
   The Fletchers later received a $200 bill for an early termination fee.
   T-Mobile did not return calls placed yesterday or Tuesday for comment.
   While Fletcher does appreciate the $501 credit, he would like T-Mobile to issue another credit for the
$3,712 now due on his son's account.
   Since the service was terminated, Fletcher has called home twice a month because Camp Cedar does
not have telephone lines. He is due home next month.
   "If we have to pay it, we will. You would think T-Mobile would be more accommodating but you figure
they have 30 million customers. They probably don't have time to look at each case individually," said
   Military officials said there is little they can do for Fletcher.
    During pre-mobilization briefings, soldiers are encouraged to use pre-paid telephone cards to keep track
of their minutes, said Eric Hurwitz, a spokesman for the 94th Regional Readiness Command in Ayer.
   While there is an Army Emergency Relief Fund, Hurwitz said it would be "unlikely" to use the money to
bail a soldier out of a personal cell phone bill.
   "It's not a common occurrence, but we do hear stories like his," Hurwitz said. "There's not much we can
do with this at this point. The education occurs before the deployment."

                   ( Laura Crimaldi can be reached at 508-626-4416 or )

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