NIC connects families with servicemen and women in Iraq

The Family Readiness Group provides a variety of support services to Army Reserve soldiers and families from counseling to childcare services. But as the holidays approached, the needs of the families shifted as the focus fell on the desire to send greetings to their loved ones on active duty in Iraq.
Through a collaborative effort of several key organizations, that dream came true for dozens of families of active servicemen and women in the Inland Northwest Dec. 21.
With initial urging from her son Chaplain Robert Kinnune of the 321st Army Reserves Engineer Battalion, Dianne Lemley of the Family Readiness Group began contacting organizations to see if any were technologically capable of providing interactive videoconferencing to place calls between families here in the Inland Northwest and servicemen and women in Iraq.
Lemley said she contacted 20 different organizations before reaching Kit Hoffer with the City of Post Falls, who put her in touch with Lewis-Clark State College—Coeur d’Alene Regional Director Cyndie Hammond. Coincidentally, Steve Keeton, one of LCSC—Coeur d’Alene’s recruiters, is a lieutenant with the Idaho Army National Guard. He knew of North Idaho College’s interactive videoconferencing capabilities and was instrumental in linking NIC to the proper military contacts in Iraq.
NIC, which uses interactive videoconferencing technology in its distance education program, connected with Chaplain Kinnune who is currently deployed in Iraq. Kinnune set up an unclassified line and put NIC in contact with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s TeleEngineering Operations Center in Vicksburg, Miss., that acted as a bridge to help the college connect by interactive videoconferencing to Iraq.
“Despite all the work we’re doing to bring this all together, I also realize how difficult it must be for the officials in Iraq to pull this all together on their end,” said NIC Information Technology Director Steve Ruppel. “None of this would have taken place if it weren’t for collaboration between many key players.”
All three parties tested the technology with a call early in the week, and the call’s success began a phone tree by the Family Readiness Group to the families of military men and women in the 321st Army Reserves Engineer Battalion, many of which are from Bravo Company in Hayden Lake, Idaho, inviting them to participate in the opportunity to talk to their loved ones for free live in Iraq.
 “We’re just so excited to be able to offer this service for our families,” Lemley said. “It means so much during the holidays.”
Both smiles and tears were present as families left the videoconferencing room.
“It was good to see him,” said Susan Kinnune of Otis Orchards, Wash., who brought her two sons along to visit with their father Chaplain Kinnune in Iraq. Derrick, 14, and Conner, 12, haven’t seen their father in person since July when his unit was deployed.
 More than 10 families stammered over a three-second delay to visit with their loved ones at NIC. Many of the families that utilized the videoconferencing services do not have access to web cams and therefore have not seen the faces of their loved ones for months. 
 “It was exciting to be able to see him on a big screen and being able to know what he’ll be doing for Christmas,” said 14-year-old Derrick Kinnune, who talks to his dad through a web cam periodically, but was impressed by the large screens in NIC’s interactive videoconferencing room.
During the exchange the Kinnune family talked about Christmas plans and seemingly routine things like braces, sports and homework. But it meant so much to be able to have the time to talk, even about the mundane, according to Susan.
Before hanging up, Chaplain Kinnune instructed the boys to continue taking care of things at home for him.
 “Be good to your mom,” Chaplain Kinnune said. “You know that’s very important to me.”
Chaplain Kinnune paused for a moment before saying “What a beautiful family, I’m so blessed. I sure miss you guys, you know that? It’s sure fantastic to see you.”
And though the exchange of live video and audio was impressive, the technology has not quite been able to take the place of the personal contact that each family member missed so much this holiday season.
“I wish I could just pick you up and give you a big hug,” Chaplain Kinnune said to his family.
NIC will create a personalized DVD of each family’s interactive videoconferencing exchange and provide them to the families.
(Pictured from behind left to right) Derrick, 14, Conner, 12, and Susan Kinnune utilize interactive videoconferencing technology at North Idaho College to visit with Chaplain Robert Kinnune of the 321st Army Reserves Engineer Battalion currently deployed in Iraq (shown on the big screen).

For More Information
NIC Information Technology Director Steve Ruppel, (208) 769-3377, Dianne Lemley of the Family Readiness Group, (509) 226-0418, Lewis-Clark State College Recruiter and Army National Guard First Lieutenant Steve Keeton, (208) 292-2685

Posted: Thursday, Dec. 21, 2006

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