Getting access to Google Voice requires patience and luck, but not for members of the U.S. Military.
Service men and women with valid ".mil" e-mail addresses can sign up for the free call and voicemail management tool right now. All they need is a local number and someone in the United States to set it up. The rest of us have to wait for an invite.
U.S. Army SGT Dale Sweetnam, who is working with Google's communications team as part of an Army fellowship, wrote on the Official Google Blog that the service can be used for "a care package in audio form." Family members can call the trooper's Google Voice number and leave voice mails, which can be checked later from a computer on the Internet.
That seems to be the biggest benefit to service members stationed in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan. A press release from Google also notes that Google Voice allows a trooper to have one number even when he or she switches bases.
Google is not stressing the ability to make cheap international calls. It's probably not feasible in areas where service to the Internet is spotty, and for Google it's definitely not worth pointing out a potential revenue source from this act of good will.
So what's in it for Google? It's all about the PR, but not just in the "we love our the troops" sense. By handing out a story that the media will lap up -- not only techies, but the mainstream press, I imagine -- Google gets free advertising for a couple of Google Voice features. Leave voice mails for loved ones in different time zones! Have one number no matter where you move! It's brilliant, and maybe even takes a subtle jab at Apple for rejecting Google Voice from the iPhone.
It also suggests that Google Voice is getting close to prime time. I got an invite in mid-July, less than a month after requesting it, and I can see this wait time steadily dwindling down until the service either opens to everyone or starts allowing peer invites, as Gmail did in its early days.
For now, our troops should enjoy being at the front of the line.