10 June 2008

Troops in Iraq Get Front-Row Seats at Children's Graduations

Micaela Cardoza beamed as she stood in her blue cap and gown at her Ansbach, Germany, high school graduation. She couldn't help but smile as a teacher read her message to her family and friends.

Army Sgt. Elias Lantigua, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force 12, Camp Taji, Iraq, smiles as his daughter, Micaela, takes the stage during her graduation ceremony June 7, 2008, in Ansbach, Germany. Lantigua was one of a few soldiers in 12th Combat Aviation Brigade who had an opportunity to see the ceremonies via streaming video on the Internet. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Chris Seaton, Task Force 12, Multinational Division Baghdad

A few thousand miles away in a conference room in Iraq, Army Sgt. Elias Lantigua, Micaela's father, choked back tears.

"I got a little emotional, ... more than I thought I would," said Lantigua, who hails from Boston and serves with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force 12. "Once she said my name, I couldn't help it."

Lantigua was one of a few soldiers in 12th Combat Aviation Brigade to watch their children take the stage, courtesy of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, U.S. Army Europe and 5th Signal Command in Germany.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Irvin, a production control specialist in 2nd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, watched from another darkened conference room at Logistics Support Area Anaconda as his own daughter, Trista, crossed the stage.

"I'm glad I could see it," he said. "Of course, I want to be there, but it's nice to see it. I talked to her this afternoon as they were getting ready to go. I'm very proud of her."

Though watching from afar on a monitor may not be the same thing as being there in person, the soldiers said, they were happy to bear witness to such major achievements in their children's lives.

"I think it's very positive," said Army Lt. Col. Richard Crogan, deputy commander for Task Force 49 and 12th CAB soldiers stationed at LSA Anaconda. "It's a great morale boost being able to see your child go across the stage. It's the next best thing to being there."

This is the fifth year that parents of students in Germany have been able to watch the ceremonies from Iraq. The recorded ceremonies also are available online for parents to watch later if work schedules kept them from seeing it live.

Lantigua, who said he was skeptical about how he would feel watching from so far away, spent most of the ceremony waiting for glimpses of his daughter. He excitedly pointed her out to friends assembled in the room when she appeared on screen.

"I was able to participate in something that, just a few years ago, I didn't think was possible," he said. "For that short time, I actually felt like I was there and that I went through this with them."

After the 12th CAB wraps up its 15-month deployment in September, Lantigua and his family will travel to Boston, where Micaela plans to speak to a recruiter about joining the Air Force.

"I'll be with her for that," he said. "It's important to both of us. ... She wants me to be there, and I want to be there for her."

And for one important hour on a Friday night in June, he said, he was there for her.

"After seeing the picture and the big screen, the feed was so good, I felt like I was actually in the audience," he said. "I probably had a better seat than most of the people there."

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Chris Seaton
Special to American Forces Press Service

Army Sgt. 1st Class Chris Seaton serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the Task Force 12 Public Affairs Office.

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