Originally created 03/28/04

University links troops with families



Jeanna Caraway had the opportunity Saturday to see her husband, Daniel, for the first time since he was deployed to Iraq on June 2.

About 60 soldiers from Company B of the Army National Guard's 878th Engineer Battalion were reunited with their families through a video teleconference at Augusta State University. The battalion is expected to return to Fort Stewart, near Savannah, the first week in June.

"It's 67 days," said Mrs. Caraway, holding her 3-month-old son, Dillon. "I've got it down to the day, actually."

Spc. Caraway also is eager to return home to be reunited with his wife and his son, who will be 4 months old April 1.

"It's just aggravating waiting," he said.

The Caraways are from the Atlanta area, but most of the soldiers in the unit are from the Augusta area, said Buddy Lockhart, the unit's Family Assistance Center supervisor.

Mr. Lockhart was responsible for coordinating the event.

"Each hometown has its own hometown guard," he said. "There a few from Atlanta, but most of them are CSRA folks."

Despite some minor technical problems early Saturday morning, the teleconference, held in Hardy Hall, began smoothly, said Rosemarie Axton, ASU's director of media services.

"When I was contacted about this, I didn't know anything about it," she said. "But I did know a lot of people whose family members were in Iraq.

"It's not costing us anything. We're just volunteering our time today."

Each family was allowed 10 minutes to speak to their loved ones. Trusina Lawrence spoke to her father, Sgt. Hector Estrada, face-to-face for the first time in almost a year.

"We miss you," Mrs. Lawrence and her two children yelled to Sgt. Estrada, whose image was transmitted onto a television screen.

While the reunion was very emotional for the families, most didn't cry.

"You need a box of Kleenex to stay and watch this," Mr. Lockhart said.