Modern technology allowing deployed parents to attend DODDS commencement
Stars and Stripes June 6, 2003
As some high school graduates stand to accept their diplomas this weekend, they will know that their deployed parents are watching. Some might look out of the corner of their eyes and catch their fathers smiling, sitting Max Headroom style in the corner of the auditorium. Others will know that mom is there too, watching through a live Web cam nearly 2,000 miles away.
Many deployed parents of Department of Defense Dependents Schools seniors in Europe have the opportunity to see commencement ceremonies, if not be there, thanks to new initiatives and partnerships.
DODDS-Europe, along with commanders, communications personnel, General Dynamics, and the American Forces Network have teamed to help bring families together during graduation.
Various schools throughout Europe, hit hard by the deployment of parents, have come up with ideas to allow parents to be there — even if not in person — for the graduation ceremonies being held between Thursday and Sunday.
Ideas include videotaping and video teleconferencing ceremonies and even offering a few parents a day trip back home to let them see the culmination of their child’s secondary school career.
One soon-to-be-grad has the best of both worlds.
Though both of Chris Putko’s parents are currently deployed from Germany, his mother, Michele Putko, battalion commander of the Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Corps Support Command, out of Wiesbaden Army Airfield, returned Thursday from Iraq, just days before the General H.H. Arnold High School ceremony.
His father, Lt. Col. Chris Putko, battalion commander of the 1st Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery, 1st Armored Division, out of Wackernheim, Germany, will see the ceremony live through video teleconferencing from a Baghdad palace.
“I am really fortunate,” said Chris Putko, who is also the school’s valedictorian. “I know many of my peers have parents who are also deployed who cannot make it back for their graduation.
“I know my Dad really wishes he could be here. It’s just a good thing he has five other graduations to look forward to.”
Chris Putko, the eldest of six children, said managing without his parents has been a learning experience outside the classroom. With both sets of grandparents trading off guardianship, he has learned to manage time and take on responsibility.
“I didn’t have to worry about maintaining the checkbook or paying bills while they are gone, but I guess I learned a lot about what’s to come — even in my life.”
Putko ensured that his siblings continued their regular schedule of sports or dance lessons, while at the same time keeping up his duties as student council president.
In Vicenza, Italy, the 509th Signal Battalion has a video teleconference planned to allow six fathers from the 173rd Brigade “Sky Soldiers” in Iraq see their children graduate in real time.
Other ways to help parents and graduates include AFN recorded messages from deployed parents, live Web cams, and recorded ceremonies distributed through CD-ROM, said Frank O’Gara, DODDS spokesman.
“We decided, even before the war started, that some deployed parents were going to miss out on a very important rite of passage in their child’s life,” O’Gara said. “We made many great partnerships to allow parents to get some sort of connection to the graduation ceremonies. We want to preserve the moment so that no deployed troop will miss this special event.”
DODDS released a list of names of deployed parents who are missing the upcoming graduation ceremonies, with the hope that commanders will find parents and allow them to take part in any nearby activities that will allow them to see their child graduate.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and we don’t want them to miss it,” O’Gara said.