News: Support from home boosts troop morale through video teleconference
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — During the holiday months in a deployed environment, one of the most comforting things for Soldiers is communicating with home. According to Salt Lake City, Utah, resident, Maj. Jeffrey Cutler, the combat service support automations officer and Freedom Calls Center manager, with the 96th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), there has been 11 video teleconferences conducted since October, with schools, community groups, a church and family groups.
"These VTC's were definitely morale builders for both the Soldiers and for the remote audience. How can you not feel good when an auditorium full of supporters are praising and cheering you and calling you a hero," Cutler said.
On Dec. 17, the Freedom Calls Center hosted yet another VTC, this time with 5th graders from Greenvale Elementary in Upper Brookville, N.Y. Approximately, 50 students were on one end and four Soldiers were on the other end of the VTC. The Soldiers were asked to bring items that the students would recognize with Arabic writing on it. "They always get a kick out of that," said the director of development of the Freedom Calls Foundation, Kathryn D. Harlow, who is a Morristown, N.J., resident.
The children had many questions about what life is like for a Soldier deployed to Iraq and what they do for fun. Pfc. Demetrius Buchanan, a Mt. Airy, N.C., native, and a finance maintenance specialist with the 113th Financial Management Co., 96th Special Troops Battalion, told them that he played video games in his spare time, which led to a response of another question. "What video games do you play?"
"The most memorable part of the experience was when I told the students that I played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare — and they cheered," Buchanan said.
Maj. Cutler described the reactions of Soldiers who have participated in the VTC's as happy and feeling great receiving all the love and attention. "Soldiers often volunteer again for additional VTCs," he said.
Cpl. Deirdre Ethington, from Richland, Wash., and the 1161st Transportation Co.'s administrative specialist said, "I felt like a superhero to these kids ... I thought the students had put a lot of thought into their questions and they were so eager to ask them, it was cute. It felt really nice to be reminded of the continuous support that we have from our fellow Americans. I hope that the children were able to see that Soldiers come from all different backgrounds and can be female too."
Oos and Ahs came from the audience of the Greenvale Elementary School when it was show and tell time. The students were eager to see the M16 assault rifle with the M203 grenade launcher attached and the 9MM weapons that the Soldiers had with them. They also seemed to enjoy the Sprite can that had English writing on one side and Arabic writing on the other.
Soldiers who also participated, included Spc. Lafrances Overton, a Fayetteville, N.C., native and a military pay specialist with the 113th FM Co. and 1st Lt. Anthony Latham, the officer in charge of the logistics training advisory team, from the 1161st TC and a Cheney, Wash., resident.
Latham had a lot to say about the interactions with the Iraqi people. "I participated in a day of fasting and prayer with one of the interpreters I work with in order to get a better understanding of their culture — now, when he introduces me to other people, he always says, 'This is the American who fasted for Ramadan.'"
Kathryn Harlow, who has a son, Alexander Margotta, at the Greenvale school, praised the Soldiers. "The Soldiers were amazing at the conference today! Thank you, thank you, thank you! The kids will never forget the experience and I hope they will walk away with pride. They have directly affected young children who will know more about what it takes to be in the military. The kids can't stop talking about it [the VTC]. I don't want to sound mushy, but seeing those men and women make me proud to be American because of the hard work they put in."