Holiday Greetings Bring Troops Closer to Home
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2011 Flick on just about any TV or radio station in the coming days, and you’re likely to catch a broadcast of a local service member deployed or stationed overseas sending holiday wishes to loved ones and friends back home.
Joint Hometown News Service videographer Air Force Master Sgt. John Cronin records a family holiday greeting in Yakoska, Japan, in 2010. DOD photo courtesy of the Joint Hometown News Service Holiday Message Program
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Joint Hometown News Service produces thousands of these TV and radio messages each year through its popular holiday greetings program.
The format for the broadcasts is simple: service members who volunteer to participate look into the camera and give their name and location, followed by an extemporaneous holiday greeting.
Some of the troops’ messages are quite emotional, Natasha Schleper, broadcast chief of the news service, said, especially those from young service members on their first deployments.
Producers edit the raw footage down to about 15 seconds before disseminating them to media outlets.
The greetings are a hit with media outlets anxious to air greetings from local service members deployed or stationed overseas. More than 1,500 TV stations and almost 3,000 radio stations subscribe to the distribution list, officials said. ESPN and several cable news outlets are among the subscribers.
Some radio and TV stations go the extra step to telephone service members’ families in their communities before their loved one’s message airs to be sure they don’t miss it. Rick Blackburn, director of the Joint Hometown News Service, calls that outreach “remarkable.”
To deliver those greetings in time for the holidays, Joint Hometown News Service crews started early and fanned out around the world. In addition to gathering greetings from service members and their families from Europe to Asia, they tap into American Forces Network resources to cover troops on the front lines.
This year, most of the greetings were recorded during a 30-day period and the raw footage was edited and uploaded on a server for subscriber access, Schleper reported.
One deployed soldier who previously was part of the hometown news team, Army Staff Sgt. Kimberly Cooper-Williams, volunteered to help again this year. She personally oversaw the taping of 430 greetings from service members throughout Kuwait within a four-day period.
The fruits of the crews’ labors began showing up on radio and TV stations during Thanksgiving week.
On Nov. 23, for example, CNN’s Anderson Cooper aired several of the messages during his national daytime program.
Earlier this month, another holiday greeting from a Marine deployed to Afghanistan was aired between periods at a NHL hockey game on the coliseum's jumbotron video screens, to the surprise and delight of his attending family in the crowd.
The impact of these messages -- first on the camera crews, then on the families and audiences at home -- continues long after the messages air, Schleper said.
“That’s someone’s child, someone’s father or mother who’s away from home, not enjoying the holidays in their own living rooms with their families,” she said.
“The greetings are an important reminder to people at home, many of them caught up in the hustle-bustle of getting ready for the holidays, that as they go about their business, the troops are out there, continuing to defend the nation.”