Video teleconferencing connects military families

Mandi Crandell and her sons, Trayton and Kade, use the video teleconferencing system in the Airman and Family Readiness Center at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Jan. 13 to communicate with husband and father Airman 1st Class Jonathan Crandell, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron, who is deployed to Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Garncarz)

Mandi Crandell and her sons, Trayton and Kade, use the video teleconferencing system in the Airman and Family Readiness Center at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Jan. 13 to communicate with husband and father Airman 1st Class Jonathan Crandell, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron, who is deployed to Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Daniel Garncarz)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Days away from home, eons away from loved ones--at least that's how it feels to some when a military member is deployed. But Eielson capabilities can make the world a lot smaller for military families.

On Jan. 13, 10 354th Civil Engineer Squadron Airmen deployed to Iraq saw and spoke to their spouses and children via video teleconferencing.

"This was the first time Airmen from Eielson used our video teleconferencing equipment and it's a big deal," said Master Sgt. Daniel Garncarz, Airmen and Family Readiness Center deployment NCO. "The AFRC purchased two VTC systems to facilitate this type of communication and to conduct long-distance training; it was great to finally see the system used in this capacity."

The 10 deployed civil engineers are part of a 58-person team from Eielson deployed for eight months in direct support of Army personnel.

Sergeant Garncarz said their officer in charge, Maj. Kenneth Herndon, 732 Expeditionary CES commander, Det 6 heard the Army had this system, so he sought their approval to set up the communication.

After receiving Army approval, Major Herndon coordinated the logistics with Senior Master Sgt. Richard Hageman, 354th CES first sergeant, and himself to make the event happen.

The VTC system available to any deployed member if the capabilities exist on both ends puts military families in a face-to-face setting with their loved ones, a welcomed event for all members involved.

"It meant a lot for our daughter Joscalyne to see her dad," said Crystal Bonnell, wife of Senior Airman Buck Bonnell. "Although we have a webcam, Joscalyne is only 18 months and being able to see her dad on a large screen made a difference and she interacted with him a lot more."

Mandi Crandell, wife of Airman 1st Class Jonathan Crandell, said it was great for their sons Trayton, 2, and Kade, 1, to see and talk with their dad and she loved it as well.

"Although I wish we had more than 10 minutes using the VTC system, I understand that they needed to provide time for the other families," she said.

"Even if we had a longer time using it, you always want more; you can never get too much when your family is apart."

Both Sergeants Hageman and Garncarz said they felt the event was a success and they were honored to assist in making it happen.

"The spouses and children were thrilled to be able to see and hear their loved ones," said Sergeant Hageman. "Some children proudly showed mom or dad how big they have gotten, displayed an outfit they received for Christmas and various other things."

"Several spouses commented that e-mail and morale phone calls are great but this ten-minute VTC was the next best thing to actually seeing their spouses in person."
The spouses and children weren't the only ones thrilled, as Major Herndon said the feedback received from the troops showed what an immense morale boost the experience was.

"I heard so many positive comments about the VTC. The Airmen definitely want to do it again," said Major Herndon. "I waited around while everyone on our end was queued up to go in and talk. The folks who participated were so excited to talk to and see their families--it was really neat to see."

Sergeant Hageman said that the CES team is not scheduled to return until early this summer and while it is a possibility the families may not get another chance to VTC they all were very appreciative to the Army and Sergeant Garncarz for this opportunity.

If you have any questions about video teleconferencing, please call the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at 377-2178.