By Capt. David W. Eastburn, 94th AAMDC PAODecember 4, 2009
HONOLULU - In an era where U.S. service members and their families are forced to miss milestone events in both their personal and professional lives, a barrier was shattered and a bridge was built here Dec. 2 on Fort Shafter, and it all started with an idea from a devoted spouse.
Kelli Underhill, wife of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command's (AAMDC) Commanding General, Brigadier General Jeffery (Jeff) L. Underhill first came up with the idea to do a live streaming webcast of her husband's promotion when she realized both of their children, Brandon, 23, and Britney, 21 would not be able to attend the ceremony.
With Brandon working in Ironton, Ohio and Britney away at College, it would be close to impossible having them in Hawaii for the Wednesday ceremony.
"Our children have always been at every one of his promotions," said Kelli Underhill. "I just wanted them to be part of it, even though they couldn't be here physically, and most importantly, I wanted him to have them here."
For Brig. Gen. Underhill, the fact that his Soldiers were able to accomplish such a feat was no surprise. What was a surprise was the fact that it was even taking place. His wife, family, and entire command of Soldiers were able to keep the webcast a secret and surprise him as he walked to the gazebo at historic Palm Circle to begin the ceremony.
"The first thing I thought was 'Wow! How can we accomplish that''" said Brig. Gen. Underhill. "I knew Kelli had something to do with it because I looked at her and could just tell." "I couldn't believe my kids were able to see me!"
Facilitating the webcast was a joint effort between the 94th AAMDC's Public Affairs Office and G-6 communications (commo) team, both of which faced several challenges throughout the process of facilitating the webcast. The first challenge was determining what web based program or website to use.
The majority of social networking sites are blocked on the network at Fort Shafter severely hindering the team's abilities to stream video, so they set out on an internet-wide search to find one that wasn't blocked. The next major challenge was making sure they had a quality camera to transmit the images.
"Webcams don't produce the best picture, so we wanted to turn a camcorder into a webcam, said Tia Garrett, a Michigan native and the unit's Information and Technology specialist. The final piece of the puzzle would be an internet connection. Since this was such an important event, with many high ranking individuals and members of the community present, the thought of having wires running all over the well manicured lawn was unbearable.
Prior to the event, Kelli Underhill had received permission from the neighbors around the gazebo allowing the 94th AAMDC to use their wireless connection but the signal just wasn't strong enough.
"Low signal equals choppy video," said Garrett. "We chose to use a broadband PC card." The Public Affairs Office acquired a wireless USB modem from their counterparts at the Fort Shafter based 8th Theater Support Command (TSC).
This device allowed them to harness the internet through mobile broadband, much like a cell phone. Using a computer, webcasting software and professional expertise provided by the commo team, they were able to link up the Public Affairs team's high definition video camera to the computer and stream live video through the internet and into the homes of the Underhill's friends and family all around the world. Garrett expressed her excitement for the event.
"We have never done anything like this before," she said. "We're aware that people have set up (video teleconferences) for family and friends to view promotions but this was executed on a different level."
The end result was obvious. It was an overwhelming success.
"We were at Palm Circle on Fort Shafter, Hawaii, and his children in Ohio as well as people who are currently deployed to Iraq that he previously served with, were able to see the promotion take place," said Garrett. "We're just happy and proud that we could be a part of it."
Kelli Underhill was thrilled with the results as well as the phone calls poured in at the post ceremony reception. "We had family in Ohio, Texas, and Virginia, as well as friends in Iraq," said the Ironton, Ohio native.
"From what they were telling us, while they were online watching the webcast, they could all chat with each other, everyone was very excited about it." One of their children, daughter Britney Underhill, a junior at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania watched from the comfort of her room at the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority house.
"This is the best memory I can remember!" she said. "I was able to see my dad's smile and my mom placing his new rank on." "It was great to be able to see and hear my family when I couldn't be there."
Brig. Gen. Underhill's career has provided him the opportunity to serve in positions all over Europe and the United States. With the exception of combat tours in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the family has always been together.
"To me (the webcast) was symbolic of what we've been doing for the past 26 years, and that's being together," said Brig. Gen. Underhill. "Whether I'm deployed and they're at home, or I'm at home and they're at school, the ability to do something like this just brings us all together."
"Being able to watch my dad being promoted to General from across the country was unbelievable," said Britney Underhill. "I wanted to be there so bad but couldn't because of school and this was the next best thing." "I'm really glad I had the opportunity to watch this special memory for my dad."
Presiding over the ceremony that day was U.S. Army, Pacific Commanding General Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon. In his speech prior to the promotion, Mixon emphasized how important technology is for events like the one that day.
"As you all know, in our vision statement at U.S. Army, Pacific, we talk about being technologically advanced, and we're going to test that technology today," said Mixon.
"We thank you both (Brandon and Britney) very much for your sacrifices you've made throughout your Dad's career, and we're very glad you could be here with us today."
Being a part of this promotion means so much to me because I have seen all of the hard work my dad has done and how much he deserves to wear that star," said Britney Underhill. "I am just so proud of him!"
At the end of the ceremony as guests were feasting on refreshments, Brig. Gen. Underhill had these final thoughts on the live webcast: "I'm very proud of the 94th AAMDC team, everyone who set this up," he said. The video and Information technology piece was tremendous." "I know that a lot of hard work went into this, it was not an easy task and I couldn't be happier with the outcome."