By Todd Martin
Special to the Hood Herald
Video teleconferencing technology, powered by caring hearts at Christmastime, brought special gifts of connection to children of deployed soldiers recently.
Meadows Elementary School on Fort Hood, working with a military technology contact, worked the phones and e-mail connections across four brigades in two countries to conduct 28 video teleconference links.
All told, about 40 children spent 10- or 20-minute blocks of time, along with their parent, talking with soldier moms and dads in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The conversations, hosted on this side of the world in a teleconference room at the Fort Hood school, provided powerful moments of time together for separated family members.
Stephanie Young, campus instructional technologist at Meadows, worked closely with Chris Van Dyke, the mission support element communications specialist to arrange the video teleconferences.
It was the third year for Meadows to host exchanges between students and parents just before the school's Christmas break. The school typically schedules a second round in the spring.
Ingrid Allen, wife of deployed Col. Reginald Allen of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, worked throughout the sessions, taking photos for families and making connections with wives going through the holidays without their loved ones.
She called her service "passion unleashed" and said she was moved by the poignant meaning of the "small moments in life."
Late in the day, she said, "we do the big parties and the bake sales and decorations, but this is what makes people hum and tick. It's a heart moment and it's humbling."
In one small moment, Zahyra Vazquez-Ortega sat on the edge of a chair and held her 6-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son close as the children's eyes grew wide at the sight of their daddy on a television screen.
Later, a visibly grateful Vazquez-Ortega explained that her children attend a different school - Oveta Culp Hobby Elementary School - and that she had just received a phone call the day before about the opportunity to interact with her husband.
"I was surprised they called," she said. "It was great. They were so excited to see their daddy. We only see him every two or three months."
In another small moment, 5-year-old Meadows pre-kindergarten student Angela Porter smiled broadly and showed her stepfather her new pink "princess boots."
Julie Porter, the mother of Angela and 9-year-old Nicolas Porter, a Meadows third-grader, said the conferences were important for families who didn't have the technology at home and for those whose children are asleep when their mothers and fathers could talk.
"It helps keep the school involved in the families' lives," she said.
The school and others involved in the conferences purposely kept the scheduled connections secret from the children to avoid disappointment.
That made it easier for Denise Montero to make the connection with her husband, Spc. Andres Montero, a special surprise for their
3-, 7- and 10-year-olds.
When the mother and her three children stepped into the room, Van Dyke asked them if they recognized the man on the TV screen.
Mom smiled widely and soaked in her daughters' shock as she held her 3-year-old up to the screen.
"They were so much in shock, they didn't know what to do," Montero said after the session.
As they started talking, 10-year-old Ayana Montero's eyes stayed wide.
"I'm still confused," the fifth-grader acknowledged.
Spc. Montero, looking by video across an ocean at his family, marveled that his oldest daughter had grown in his departure.
"She's up to your shoulder," he said to his wife. "That's crazy."
The soldier asked his girls how they were doing in school and wanted to know about a gymnastics injury.
After the session, Montero said her family usually communicates through Skype, but their web camera had not worked lately.
"This was perfect," she said. "It means a lot. This is our first deployment and they are dealing with their daddy being gone."
Lori Williams, wife of Spc Rony Williams, brought 2-year-old James Williams to join 4-year-old brother Levi Williams in their surprise family moment.
"It's good to see and talk," Williams said after the session with her husband. "He's not always available when they are awake.
"This helps to emphasize that he's at work and that he will come home."