By Pfc. Karina ParaoanMarch 2, 2010
CAMP DENALI, Alaska (Feb. 26, 2010) -- Thousands of miles away, deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, an Alaska Army National Guardsman was still able to see his 12-year-old daughter's school play at Trailside Elementary School in Anchorage Feb. 25.
Master Sgt. Eric Schlemme has been deployed to Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2009, as one of two U.S. liaisons to the Mongolian Expeditionary Force. He has been working as a tactical adviser, base security operation consultant and mentor to the Mongolian Expeditionary Force through the Alaska National Guard's State Partnership Program with Mongolia. Typically, he only has time to talk to his family and daughter, Camille, once a week.
After Camille landed a role in the school play, Cinderella, she was a little disappointed that her dad would still be deployed and unable to watch her perform the role of Cinderella's stepmother. When Linda Bender, the music teacher at Trailside, heard about Camille's situation from her mom, Erin, she came up with a plan that led to Camille crying tears of joy.
"When I was told about the situation, something clicked, and I thought of trying to send the show, Cinderella, to him," Bender said. "Normally, the contract with the production company doesn't allow any broadcasting of the show, but I wrote to them and explained the circumstances, and they made a special exception to Skype the show to Camille's dad in Kabul."
After getting permission from Rodgers and Hammerstein Theatricals and asking around for help with the technical aspect of the situation, Bender had successfully come up with a plan to connect Camille with her father while she was on stage.
"When I told Camille that we were going to be able to show him her performance, she hugged me and was in tears," Bender said.
Bender used Skype, a software application that allows users to make voice calls and video conferencing over the Internet for free, so Schlemme could watch and enjoy Camille's performance with everyone else.
"My dad's been gone since September, and I really miss him," Camille said. "I was so excited that he got to see my play because I worked really hard preparing for it, and even though it was over the computer, it felt like he was there watching me."
"With two active kids, Eric has missed a lot this year," Erin said. "Having this small opportunity for him to participate in a major family event is something to truly celebrate."
Schlemme is part of the sixth rotation of Alaska Army National Guardsmen to volunteer to deploy with the Mongolians since 2004. He is scheduled to return to Alaska within the next few months.