Satellite lets troops in Iraq watch graduation back home
Stars and Stripes June 8, 2003
VICTORY CAMP, Iraq — Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas Clark didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he saw his graduating daughter’s image flash on a makeshift screen on a palace wall at V Corps’ headquarters just outside Baghdad.
So he did both.
While his daughter, Crystal, graduated Saturday from H.H. Arnold High School thousands of miles away in Wiesbaden, Germany, Clark sat in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces surrounded by an enormous man-made lake.
The ambiance mattered not, he said.
“I’m disappointed I can’t be there because I’m so proud of her,” said Clark, assigned to the 440th Signal Battalion out of Darmstadt, Germany. “She’s the finest young lady you’ll ever meet.”
Sgt. Maj. Arthur Adkins, the operations sergeant major of 22nd Signal Brigade out of Darmstadt, was the magic man of the hour Saturday, after he tapped people-in-the-know in the Army, with the overseas military education system and with contractor General Dynamics to get the high school graduation video teleconference carried live via a satellite link — both to Iraq and back to Germany.
Soldiers at Victory Camp watched, amid tears and smiles, as the event streamed live on a palace wall. A satellite link also was available at the Belad air base in central Iraq.
Lt. Gen. Scott Wallace, commander of V Corps, wouldn’t allow any of his troops to leave Iraq, but gave them time away from their duties to catch their sons’ and daughters’ commencement.
As the ceremony began, fathers and mothers scurried to write messages of support on any scrap of paper they could find, on the back pages of a print-out roster of the graduates’ names, in the standard green Army-issue pocket notebook, and even a cardboard box.
“Chris, where are you going to college? Love Papa,” read one message, which drew laughter from both the graduates and audience in Germany and the 29 soldiers gathered at Victory Camp.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Derek Flood, with the 1st Armored Division, was relieved not to completely miss the graduation ceremony of his 18-year-old twins, Christina and Christopher.
“I’m glad I’m getting to see it; this is the next best thing to being there,” Flood said.
“This is a lot better than seeing it later on VHS tape,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Todd Metcalf, whose daughter, Kathy Wellhoff, graduated. “This is going to be emotional, but I know and she knows that we’re here for a very good reason.”