News: Deployed parents share joy of graduation from a distance
Story by Sgt. Alun Thomas
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — As his daughter, Ercilia, crossed the stage to receive her diploma at Belton High School's 2009 graduation ceremony in Texas, Staff Sgt. Ronal Cantarero tried to hold back his tears.
He couldn't. It was one of the proudest moments of his life as a parent as he watched his daughter graduate, only he was a world away, deployed in Iraq for a second time.
For Cantarero, of Belton, Texas, an aircraft electrician with Company B, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division—Baghdad, the pain of missing the graduation was eased by a video conference which allowed him and other parents to witness the ceremony by satellite, June 5, at the brigade headquarters conference room.
The initiative to provide the service to deployed parents was to boost morale, said Staff Sgt. Thomas Childers, from Chattanooga, Tenn., video telephone conference coordinator, Company C, 615th ASB, 1st ACB, who worked with rear detachment personnel at Fort Hood to set up the link to allow parents to view the ceremony.
"The rear set up the VTC at the Bell County Expo center in Belton and from there it went to a ... link at Liberty Bridge here in Iraq and finally to us," Childers said. "We did this on the last rotation also to provide support for the parents of these children."
Childers said his job was to ensure the equipment worked so the satellite feed went through in a proper manner.
"I troubleshoot the equipment, but my part of the job is easy compared to the rear detachment who have to set everything up back home," Childers said. "But they have been doing this for a few years now so they know what they're doing."
Cantarero said he was thankful for the VTC service provided as it let him see his daughter graduate, but at the same time it remained hard not being there in person.
"This is a once in a lifetime moment and a very special occasion for my daughter, so it was difficult to watch from afar," Cantarero said. "I have watched her grow up and I am very proud of her accomplishments to this point."
Following the graduation his daughter will move on to college, Cantarero said,.
"She wants to become a veterinarian as she loves to work with animals," Cantarero explained. "But it never gets easier being gone and missing these events."
"I tried not to cry," he added with a smile.
Also present to see his daughter graduate was Warrant Officer 4 James Snyder, from Pontiac, Mich., the battalion master gunner, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn., 1st ACB, who said he too found watching the ceremony a bittersweet experience.
"I look at the graduation as 12 years in the making for school, so it's hard being away for something that is only going to happen once," Snyder said. "I am on my fourth deployment and I've gotten used to missing birthdays, but it's the once in a lifetime events that are the hardest to miss."
Snyder had hoped to take leave to attend the graduation, but was unable to.
"We hadn't been in Iraq long enough so it wasn't possible," he said. "I called Kasandra [his daughter] and told her myself I wouldn't be there which was very hard to do."
Snyder said his daughter understood, as did his family, who has always supported him during his deployments, making his military sacrifices worthwhile.
"Less than one percent of Americans do what we do and serve their country, and fortunately for me I have a wife and kids who understand that," Snyder said. "They know that I might not be there for something."
Snyder said it was a proud moment to see his daughter graduate, with the next stage of her life right around the corner.
"She was in the band all four years at high school and did well but now she's off to college next year," Snyder said. "I told her to celebrate because it's the end of high school but it's also the beginning. She has to start all over again."
The chance to see the graduation was not lost on Snyder, who said it made a world of difference.
"It was hard knowing all my family and friends were there and I wasn't, but at least I got to partake this way."