By Capt. David Page, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs OfficeJanuary 8, 2007
On the third Saturday in December, the Cats and Cards squared off once again in the commonwealth's most heated state rivalry, and many deployed Soldiers and their families were watching TVs, but not for the reason you would think.
For more than 50 Soldiers and their families, the day presented an opportunity for them to see one another via video teleconference from locations literally half way around the world.
Freedom Calls, in conjunction with the support of UK Healthcare's Kentucky TeleCare Network and the Kentucky National Guard, linked Soldiers in five sites throughout Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan and their families together to share a minimum of 20 minutes with each other.
The event, now in its third year, was the brainchild of Rob Sprang, the director of KTN.
Sprang said he was introduced to the Freedom Calls organization by a peer during a conference a few years ago.
"When I returned from the conference, I looked up [Freedom Calls] and called them," said Sprang.
Based on the mission of KTN, which helps patients in remote areas link up with doctors via video teleconferencing, Sprang hoped to extend his company's services to help connect troops and their families.
Sprang said the event has grown each year, but doubled in size this year with the help of retired Master Sgt. Tom C. Gavin, who works full time for the Kentucky National Guard's Directorate of Information Operations as a video operations specialist.
"We [KTN] were introduced to Tom," Sprang said. "This, by far, was the easiest year we had."
Gavin used his technical knowledge and military background to expand the Freedom Calls event from two sites to five this year. Gavin coordinated with units on the ground in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan to find compatible technology to bridge the connection between the states and aboard.
"We worked with Rob and the Freedom Calls folks," Gavin said. "I dropped request forms to AT&T to get the lines for overseas."
Gavin said Freedom Calls, a non-profit organization, paid for the long distance charges to the lines needed to connect the locations.
Setting up this event was more than just a work-related task for Gavin. Gavin's son, Spc. Matthew Gavin, is serving in Afghanistan with the 198th Military Police Brigade. Tom was able to talk to his son via the Freedom Calls event.
"Seeing my son was fanastic!" Tom said.
Tom and his family know just how special the opportunity was because Tom served in Desert Storm.
"We were lucky to get a couple of phone calls while in Desert Storm," Tom said. "And, the Internet was unheard of really."
The day's events were made more special for families and Soldiers due to a visit from Gov. Ernie Fletcher, Mrs. Fletcher and Kentucky's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Donald C. Storm.
The governor, his wife and Storm visited with families who were waiting to talk to loved ones and also rotated through the rooms that hosted the five sites aboard so they could tell the Soldiers personally how much they appreciated their service.
Sprang said he plans continue to do the Freedom Calls event as long as troops are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and Tom said he will right there with them.
"It makes our Christmas to be a part of this," Sprang said. "For people like me, we don't know what it is like. It is good for the public to see this."
Next year, the game will be held at Rupp Arena in Lexington, and if need be, Freedom Calls, KTN and the Kentucky National Guard will be ready to execute the fourth annual Freedom Calls event.