"Operation Yellow Ribbon" connects graduates, Soldiers
June 1, 2013
FORT CAMBPELL, Ky., May 31, 2013 - Graduating is considered a monumental achievement for any high school student, but for teens with parents and family members deployed to Afghanistan, it takes on a special meaning.
Michael Clayton III, whose father, 1st Sgt. Michael Clayton Jr., is currently deployed to Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), can attest to that.
The Fort Campbell High School 2013 graduate was able to share his commencement experience via Skype and the Internet, thanks to a special program aimed at connecting Soldiers with their families on the occasion.
The program, "Operation Yellow Ribbon," is a month-long joint effort between the Division and Austin-Peay State University that allows Soldiers who are deployed to watch a live stream of their children and spouses as they graduate from school and then immediately Skype with them following the ceremony.
Even though they were far apart from each other, emotions were high between father and son, as the two were able to spend some meaningful time together following the younger Clayton's commencement ceremony. "He said he was proud of me," Clayton III said, fighting back his tears.
The Division and APSU created a "Skype Center," at the university's Dunn Center where graduates and their families could communicate with their deployed Soldiers.
The Division provided six laptop computers, which are set up in a room at the center. They checked in with their counterparts down range to ensure they were able to have adequate connectivity back stateside.
Soldiers who are deployed were able to watch their family member's commencement ceremonies as both APSU and the Clarksville-Montgomery County School streamed the events live over the Internet.
Once the ceremony ended, the families were brought to the "Skype Center" where they were able to immediately talk to their graduate and other family members.
"This was wonderful because it helps us stay connected to our families who couldn't be with us. It's a special time for our family," said Jenny Toner, wife of Division Chief of Staff Col. Chris Toner. Toner's son, Zachery, was among the 126 graduates from Fort Campbell High School.
"Operation Yellow Ribbon" officially kicked off May 10, with spouses and children of deployed Soldiers graduating from APSU. The program also included graduations from other high schools in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. In all, more than 10 high school and university graduates and their families took part in the program.
"This is a once in a lifetime event," Col. Toner said from Afghanistan. "It's absolutely amazing to be able to put something like this together and the impact it has on the families and Soldiers. I won't forget this."
Cpt. Andrew McIver, operations company commander, Headquarters, Headquarters Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, commended the program as he was able to watch as his wife graduate from APSU earlier in May.
"They did a great job facilitating the communication and opportunity for me to speak to my wife after she graduated. I am extremely grateful," he said.
The impact of the event was not lost on the students, either. Many of them relished the opportunity to talk with their parents while still dressed in their cap and gowns, a symbol that they had made it.
"My father said he enjoyed watching me play basketball this season and that he was thinking of me," Clayton III said. "That means a lot."
Clayton III said he intends to continue his studies this fall at Hopkinsville Community College.