Kaua’i soldiers have high-tech holiday reunions

LIHU’E — Douglas Freitas struggled. His facial grimaces were an indication that he was trying to keep from breaking down when he saw his wife and daughter on the big video screen.

His daughter had broken down almost immediately, but the soldier fought his own emotions.

“He’s trying real hard not to break down,” Sgt. Pacifico “Pat” Quel said while peeking in the door of the county’s Emergency Operating Center (EOC) Friday morning.

Through the efforts of Eric Knutzen, the County of Kaua’i information technology (IT) head, members of five Kaua’i families had an opportunity to reunite, virtually, with their soldiers who are currently deployed in Iraq.

But it was not as easy as that, as Knutzen said members of three families had to cancel prior to the Fridaymorning event because they couldn’t get off of work, or due to other personal commitments.

According to Mary Daubert, the county’s public information officer, Knutzen heard about the video conferencing being done by officials with Hawai’i County on the Big Island from the IT manager there.

After discussing the project with Kaua’i Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste, who was on hand for the event on Friday, approval was secured, and members of families were notified.

Knutzen’s brother Christian is a Ranger with the Hawaii Army National Guard, who was called up for duty in Iraq.

According to Daubert, he is with the Hanapepe unit, and his family lives in Anahola. He is currently a military trainer who lives and works with 24 Iraqi soldiers in a remote village with Task Force Konohiki.

“You can feel the emotion,” said Milton Ozaki, the family-assistance-center coordinator with the Hawaii Army National Guard, as he watched the dialog between members of the Freitas family from outside the EOC door with Quel.

Members of the participating families met with their loved ones in Iraq in the privacy of the EOC conference room, with no county or Hawaii Army National Guard people present. Knutzen paid over $100 for the sessions.

While Ozaki and Quel watched through the door, Knutzen explained that the transmission uses fiber optics, with the signal traveling at the speed of light. The signal is routed through the Mainland before reaching Iraq, and the slight lag between images was due to the end hardware, where the signal has to travel through computers and routers to enable the viewer to see an image on the large-screen monitor.

As the Bryan Doo and Douglas Freitas enjoyed their personal, virtual, long-distance reunions, Baptiste, Kaui Tanaka, Quel, Knutzen and Ozaki were engrossed in discussions of the logistics of hosting another video-teleconferencing session before Christmas, so members of more Kaua’i families could enjoy this long-distance, virtual reunion.

Additionally, the group members were tossing around plans for an islandwide, welcome-home celebration when the Kaua’i soldiers arrive home some time in early 2006.

Earlier in the morning, Erin Doo had her children Mason Doo and Madison Doo on hand as she was reunited, virtually and temporarily, with husband Bryan Doo.

Erin Doo utilized the video technology to have daughter Madison Doo demonstrate her crawling skills, while son Mason Doo waved to dad, who waved back on the screen, almost as if they were in the same room.

Tanaka and Soncy Tamashiro of the mayor’s office served refreshments provided by Baptiste to members of the Kaua’i families at the EOC, Daubert said.

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