By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – As Sgt. Troy Lewis Sr.'s family walked down a hall in 1st Cavalry Division headquarters Friday afternoon, a wooden door at the end swung open.
"There he is!" said Laura Clark, Lewis' fiancee, as she gasped and covered her mouth.
At the front of the room, the sergeant's smiling face filled a large video screen.
Troy Jr., Lewis' 6-year-old son, spotted his dad and the excitement began. For the next 15 minutes, the room was filled with ecstatic chatter from Laura; Troy Jr.; Elizabeth Long, Troy Jr.'s mother; Erin Clark, Laura's 4-year-old daughter; Jonathan Reed, Laura's 6-year-old grandson; and Thomas Long, Elizabeth's husband, a retired Army major.
Lewis deployed in October to Iraq with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division; this was the first time he was able to see his family, although they have communicated by phone.
"This is the best thing I could get," Lewis said, with a wide grin.
Troy Jr., Elizabeth and Thomas traveled to Fort Hood from their home in Houma, La., to participate in the videoteleconference. Laura, Erin and Jonathan live in the area.
Troy Jr. thought that his dad was waiting for him at Fort Hood and Elizabeth had to explain the videoteleconference to him.
Topics during the video meeting ranged from gummy eyeballs to Christmas to bowling. It was a flurry of noise and action while the three children shouted into a microphone and Lewis, who appeared just as excited, answered their questions.
The videoteleconference was special for the sergeant, who only found out about it the night before.
"I'm so glad that you guys did this," he said later. "This is a surprise."
Lewis let the kids know that he has just received two packages from the family. One of those contained a Web camera so they wouldn't have to go to First Team headquarters every time they wanted to see Lewis.
Fort Hood families have corresponded with their soldiers by videoteleconferences for several years, and several families were at the headquarters building Friday afternoon.
The process involves setting up a camera and audio line at a site in Iraq and Fort Hood. Those are then linked to provide instantaneous communication, though the sites are thousands of miles apart.
The technology is advanced, but sometimes, like Friday afternoon, isn't fast enough to keep up with excited, chattering children who bombard a soldier with questions.
For Christmas, Troy Jr. sent his dad a stocking full of interesting candy: gummy worms, eyeballs and bugs.
"Aw, that was good," Lewis said, laughing, when Elizabeth and the kids asked if he received them.
Elizabeth said before the videoteleconference that Lewis had a dry sense of humor and had offered some of the gummy eyeballs to a few reluctant Iraqis.
When time began to run out, it fueled another round of quick-fire questions and last shouts of "I love yous" and "I miss yous."
At nearly the last minute, Troy Jr. remembered what he was wearing.
"Daddy, I'm in my uniform!" he shouted.
"Oh, let me see," his father asked.
The camouflaged boy got shy and didn't want to stand up, so Thomas shouted, "He looks just like you, Troy!"
When it was time to end the conversation, the sergeant reluctantly left the microphone, but came back several times for more words for his family.
"God bless you. Thank you so much, everybody," he said.
"I'll call you," he promised his fiancee, whom he will marry during mid-tour leave in March.
Tears streamed down Laura's face as she walked back down the hallway leading away from the giant video screen.
"This meant a lot to him," Elizabeth said.
The two women discussed the sergeant as they stood in the lobby of the headquarters building, chatting about how healthy he looked.
This was the first time everyone – former wife, future wife, children and stepchildren – were together.
That made his day, Elizabeth said, and when it makes his day, it makes other soldiers' days.
Knowing that the family gets along and provides support to each other makes it easier for Lewis during this deployment, Laura said. She has received most of her information about Lewis from him and Elizabeth. Laura hopes to get on the Family Readiness Group's notification list soon, but until then, relies on Elizabeth for information and support.
Both women are familiar with military life. Lewis has been in the Marines and Navy, his military service totaling 18 years. Laura is from Fort Bragg and her 22-year-old daughter just married a soldier who will soon deploy to Iraq. Elizabeth was born at Fort Hood and her father served in the Army. If the family hadn't moved from Fort Hood, she predicted that she too would have eventually joined.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews