Guardsman Sees Daughter Graduate Via Satellite
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jennifer Ludden.
Last night, 340 students graduated from Dallastown High School in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, and Air National Guard Staff Sergeant John Neubaum saw his daughter accept her diploma, even though he is in Iraq. The sergeant was watching through a video uplink with help from a non-profit group. The organization Freedom Calls arranges connections to Iraq so family members can be there for important moments or just for day-to-day chats. We've called the Neubaums to talk about their virtual graduation experience. Heather joins us from her hometown in Dallastown.
HEATHER NEUBAUM: Thank you.
LUDDEN: And Staff Sergeant Neubaum is on the line from Iraq. Thank you very much for joining us.
Staff Sergeant JOHN NEUBAUM: Thank you very much.
LUDDEN: Sergeant, how long was it since you'd last seen your daughter?
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: Oh, it was January 25th of this year.
LUDDEN: Heather, what was it like to see your dad last night on your graduation day?
NEUBAUM: It was amazing. It was really, really worth it.
LUDDEN: Could you see him while you were sitting there in the crowd or just...
NEUBAUM: No, I had to sit with my class during the whole graduation ceremony, and then afterwards, they took me to the top of the bleachers where everything was set up, and I got to talk to him then.
LUDDEN: But you knew he was watching you.
LUDDEN: Sergeant, what was it like watching? What did you see?
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: Well, I had a pretty good bird's-eye view. The camera panned around. I saw my family. The speakers, I heard them and I saw, you know, the procession, and as the graduates were being awarded, I saw them come up, so I had a view of pretty much everything.
LUDDEN: Was this whole thing set up just for you? Were there other military children, or was it all geared for you to see your family and your daughter?
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: As far as I know, it was just for me. Now there was somebody else--Heather, maybe you can help me with this.
NEUBAUM: Yeah, there was another girl whose brother is overseas, and they were trying to split the connection to see--as he could also pick up graduation. I'm not sure if it happened, though.
LUDDEN: What did it mean for you to be able to have your dad see you and then see him afterwards?
NEUBAUM: I didn't think it was going to happen since, you know, I didn't think he'd actually be able to see graduation, but it meant a lot that this foundation could come out and do that. It was just--it meant everything to me.
LUDDEN: And, Sergeant, can I ask what you would have done last night if this had not been able to happen?
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: Well, I probably would have been in here waiting for the link maybe to come up, and hopefully it would. If I couldn't see them, I would have called them on the phone and talked to them and, you know, mark the day as best we could.
LUDDEN: What does your daughter's graduation mean to you?
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: A great deal, more than I can go into right now. It's kind of like--and then maybe it's this way for her, too--I'm able to put this milestone behind you and move on to the next one 'cause there's always a next one, you know, the next goal, and I plan to be back for her next one, which I think is Keystone, Heather?
LUDDEN: You're going to Keystone Culinary School. Is that right, Heather?
NEUBAUM: Keystone College in their culinary program.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: That's a four-year...
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: ...liberal arts school...
NEUBAUM: It's a two-year.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: ...Heather.
NEUBAUM: It's a two-year.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: It's a four-year school I think, but yours is--What?--a two-year program.
NEUBAUM: A two-year program, yeah.
LUDDEN: So you're saying the next milestone is graduation from there?
NEUBAUM: Yeah, something like that.
LUDDEN: Sergeant Neubaum, do you expect to be in Iraq in two years?
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: No, I don't. I don't plan to be.
LUDDEN: We need to go, but I know this isn't quite private, but do you guys want to say anything to each other before we--I know you'd rather speak to each other than to me.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: Well, Heather, I'm so very proud of you...
NEUBAUM: Thank you.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: ...more than I can say.
NEUBAUM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: And I'm going to try and actually call you on a separate line in a little bit, OK?
NEUBAUM: All right.
LUDDEN: Staff Sergeant Neubaum...
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: All right.
LUDDEN: ...in Iraq, where you watched your daughter's graduation last night, thanks for speaking with us.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: Thank you very much.
LUDDEN: And Heather Neubaum in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, thank you, and congratulations again.
NEUBAUM: Thank you.
LUDDEN: Great. Thank you both.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: All right. Thank you.
NEUBAUM: Bye, Dad. I love you.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: I love you, too, honey.
Staff Sgt. NEUBAUM: Bye.