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Staff Sgt. Christopher Ellis helps his daughter, Faith, 2, speak into a microphone to her mom, Senior Airman April Ellis, who’s deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq. They were able to see each other for the first time since September via a special holiday morale video teleconference arranged between Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Balad.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Ellis helps his daughter, Faith, 2, speak into a microphone to her mom, Senior Airman April Ellis, who’s deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq. They were able to see each other for the first time since September via a special holiday morale video teleconference arranged between Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Balad. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Staff Sgt. Christopher Ellis helps his daughter, Faith, 2, speak into a microphone to her mom, Senior Airman April Ellis, who’s deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq. They were able to see each other for the first time since September via a special holiday morale video teleconference arranged between Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Balad.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Ellis helps his daughter, Faith, 2, speak into a microphone to her mom, Senior Airman April Ellis, who’s deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq. They were able to see each other for the first time since September via a special holiday morale video teleconference arranged between Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Balad. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Natira Edwards holds 5-day-old Kir’reia during a video teleconference Tuesday with her husband, Airman 1st Class Broderick Edwards, who’s deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq.
Natira Edwards holds 5-day-old Kir’reia during a video teleconference Tuesday with her husband, Airman 1st Class Broderick Edwards, who’s deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Natira Edwards talks with her husband, Airman 1st Class Broderick Edwards, through a video conference.
Natira Edwards talks with her husband, Airman 1st Class Broderick Edwards, through a video conference. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — A father laid eyes on his newborn baby for the first time. A 3-year-old almost mooned his tearful mom, giggling mischievously as he flashed underwear, not diapers. Spouses remarked on each other’s appearance, some noting weight loss or a new hairstyle. The million-dollar question: When are you coming home?

Seven families here Tuesday afternoon saw their deployed loved one for the first time in more than three months through the first morale video teleconference linking Misawa Air Base and Balad Air Base in Iraq.

Coordinating the effort was the 332nd Expeditionary Communications Squadron at Balad and Misawa’s 35th Communications Squadron and Family Support Center.

Balad invited 12 bases, including Misawa, to participate in a special holiday morale video call, officials there said. The base has had video teleconferencing for about 15 months, but it’s primarily used for mission purposes.

Of Misawa’s more than 250 personnel deployed for the current Aerospace Expeditionary Force cycle, about 16 are deployed to Balad, one of the largest air bases in Iraq, located north of Baghdad.

“We thought a lot of people would take advantage of it,” said Capt. Steven J. Peña, 332nd Expeditionary Communications Squadron flight commander, at the start of Tuesday’s video conference from Balad. “For some people it’s harder than waiting till they get home.”

At Misawa, officials encountered a few family members with similar sentiments. When contacted about participating, “three or four people said that seeing them would make it tougher,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Henderson, 35th Communications Squadron visual information craftsman.

Most spouses, however, jumped at the chance.

“I really loved this,” said Jenna Turner, who had a rare glimpse of her husband, 1st Lt. Mike Turner, with Corwin, 4, and Amity, 2, by her side. “Actually seeing him, it’s a lot more personal.”

Families were connected for 15 minutes via a secure phone line to Balad in the 35th Communications Squadron’s video-teleconferencing room in the Torii Building. Voice transmission was near perfect, and the picture was crystal clear. Families sat at a table with a microphone wired to a television screen casting their loved one’s face and words — and sometimes emotions.

Senior Airman April Ellis in Balad quickly wiped away tears as she saw Christian, 3, Faith, 2, and husband, Staff Sgt. Christopher Ellis, for the first time since leaving in early September. The couple are assigned to the same shop in the 35th Maintenance Squadron.

“Christian, show Mommy how big you are,” April Ellis said. Besides pulling down his pants to prove that dad had potty-trained him, Christian also showed off his new yellow rain boots. To reach a quiet Faith, April asked simply, “What do you want for dinner?”, getting “soup” for a reply.

“The kids are looking forward to you coming home,” Christopher Ellis said, “and so am I.”

Many of Misawa’s deployed servicemembers are due back the end of January.

Airman 1st Class Broderick Edwards thought he’d have to wait until that homecoming to see his new baby. Kir’reia Edwards was due Dec. 21 but was born on Saturday. The tiny babe with jet black hair was sleeping in her mother’s arms during the call.

Maj. Bill Poirier, Misawa’s 35th Communications Squadron commander, said the base hopes to conduct more morale video teleconferences in the future.

“We’re trying to achieve this for every AEF and every base,” he said. “That’s a goal that may not be possible. But when we can and where it’s appropriate, we’re going to try and do our best to support our families and deployed members. The added value of the holiday makes it even more special.”

Master Sgt. Roger Hamed said he was thrilled to be able to see his wife and three children, especially so close to the holidays. His two girls, Annalyn, 8, and Gabrielle, 7, told him they wanted a pony and two front teeth for Christmas. Said one, “Daddy, I wish I was there.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Hamed replied.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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