ABOARD USS KEARSARGE -- As the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) continue distributed operations from the north Arabian Gulf, members of the aviation combat element received a special treat from the home front thanks to the technology of video teleconferencing, or VTC as it is commonly called.
In all, 22 Marines and sailors from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-162 (Reinforced) had five minutes each to sit down and have a live conversation from the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) directly to their loved ones gathered aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C.
A video screen about the size of a large computer monitor and camera were set up in the ship’s main briefing room with a satellite link to Camp Lejeune where there was a similar set up. The system works much the same as a webcam allowing the two parties to have a face-to-face conversation despite the thousands of miles between them.
"I think this is a great opportunity to give them a slice of home," said Lt. Col. Kurt E. Diehl, commanding officer of HMM-162 (Rein). "They get a spring in their step and a smile on their face when they get to see [and talk] to their wives and kids. And from what I hear from the other side, it’s the same thing there."
For one avionics technician, the VTC was more than just a chance to see his family; it was the closest he has come to meeting its newest member. Staff Sgt. Cory J. Lenkowski’s wife gave birth to their third daughter June 23.
"When I first saw her through the VTC, she was crying and she bought a huge smile to my face. I just wanted to reach into the monitor and hold her," he said. "My wife has sent me plenty of pictures of her, from the time she was born until now, but nothing beats seeing her move and hearing her cry for the first time."
Staff Sgt. Johnny R. Akers with the maintenance admin section echoed Lenkowski’s view. "The best part was getting to see them in real time," he said. "Even if you have a digital camera, it’s not the same."
The teleconference was also a special moment for Akers, whose wife is recovering well from a recent surgery. He said she looked really good, and his two boys talked a lot about what they were doing to help their mother. "My oldest is really helping out - like mowing the grass and taking out the trash - and my youngest is just staying out of the way, which is a big help," he said.
CH-46 pilot 1st Lt. Zack R. Webb was also moved by the experience. "That was awesome," he said afterward. "The last time I saw my baby girl she wasn’t even crawling. Now she is all over the place."
He said the best part of the experience was interacting with his wife and two daughters and "just being able to see the expressions on their faces."
The VTC was just one of several the MEU has conducted for all the elements of the command since departing the coastal waters of North Carolina in March. There are more scheduled in the future. It’s one way the modern Marine Corps and Navy are reaching out to help families stay connected during the long separations brought on by deployments.
The 26th MEU will continue its current mission as the theater reserve in the Central Command area of responsibility before returning to the Mediterranean Sea next month.
The unit is scheduled to make the trans-Atlantic voyage back to Camp Lejeune in the early fall when the Marines and sailors here won’t need a video screen to see the expressions on their loved-one’s faces.