Parents in Iraq, Afghanistan to View Graduations Via Webcasts
By Dennis K. Bohannon
Special to American Forces Press Service
WIESBADEN, Germany , May 2, 2007 Servicemembers deployed to war zones will be able to view their high school seniors crossing the stage and moving their tassels from right to left via live webcasts on graduation day.
The Department of Defense Dependents Schools Europe; U.S. Army, Europe; 5th Signal Command; U.S. Air Forces in Europe; Combined Joint Task Force 82 in Afghanistan; Multinational Corps Iraq; and World Television Services have combined assets, talents and technologies to enable the live broadcasts via the Internet. The effort will allow nearly 100 deployed parents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and other locations around the world to view 18 graduation ceremonies.
The first graduation ceremony is expected to be webcast on June 7. Eight graduation ceremonies will take place simultaneously on June 8, dubbed “Super Friday” by those involved. The last ceremony will be webcast on the evening of June 15.
Schools identified as participants in the graduation webcasts thus far, are AFNorth, in the Netherlands; Ansbach, Bamberg, Bitburg, Hanau, Heidelberg, Hohenfels, Kaiserslautern, Mannheim, Patch, Ramstein, Vilseck, Wiesbaden and Wuerzburg, in Germany; Aviano and Vicenza, in Italy; Lajes, in the Azores, and Lakenheath, in England. However, additional schools can be added through May 18 if a senior’s parent is unexpectedly deployed.
Using emerging Web technologies, deployed parents will be able to see their graduating senior cross the stage and view student messages recorded for the occasion.
The collective effort is intended to give graduating students and deployed parents the opportunity to share in this once-in—a-lifetime event.
This is the fourth year the effort has been undertaken. Diana Ohman, director DoDDS-Europe, who has been involved with each of the yearly webcasts, said that although it is a monumental technical challenge, these webcasts are emotionally significant to the students and the deployed parents.
“There is no room for error,” she said. “It is too important. It is important to the graduating senior that he or she be able to share the event with their parents, as well as for the deployed parent to be able to view their son or daughter crossing the stage.”
Collecting data for this year’s webcast began in January. Seniors who had or anticipated having parents deployed at graduation were identified through the high schools. A list of schools with deployed parents and other specifics was forwarded to U.S. Army, Europe, where contracts were written and the immense coordination process began. Last week, German contractor World Television Services was awarded the contract to provide technical support for the webcasts.
“With the contract awarded, we can now (be conducting) site surveys and establishing and testing connectivity, and telling the parent downrange what to expect,” said Kenneth Bilbo, chief information officer for U.S. Army, Europe, Headquarters and one of the initial planners.
“The next few weeks are going to be busy, and we expect changes and alterations right up to the last minute of the last graduation ceremony,” said Angela Fobbs, from 5th Signal Command, who has led the project for four years. “But when you see the faces of the graduating seniors, listen to their recorded and live messages, and read the responses from the parents, it becomes real obvious that this is a good and worthwhile effort.”
Each high school also is being paired with the signal battalion in its geographic area as a means of backup and additional support. The local signal battalions will help where possible and provide technical assistance where needed.
In the days to come, World Television Services will begin testing audio and video feeds between each graduation site and the dozens of receiving locations down range.
Initially, contact information for deployed or deploying parents of graduates was collected through each of the high schools. This information will now be used to notify deployed or deploying parents of graduating seniors when webcast Internet sites are online. They will also be provided logon and password information.
(Dennis K. Bohannon is assigned to the Public Affairs Office of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools Europe.)