By USF-I DCG (A&T) PAOAugust 20, 2010
Baghdad - High school reunions can be a time of angst for some, wondering how much friends may have changed through the years; seeing whom time has been kind. However others may see them as an opportunity to re-establishing connections strained by time and career paths.
Such was the case for Maj. Lyn Rogers, a 1985 graduate of Neenah High School, in Neenah, Wis., and a budget officer with the Iraq Training and Advisory Mission Director.
Unfortunately for her, she would be unable to attend her reunion, which took place in early August, as the timing did not fall in line with her R&R (rest-and-recuperation) leave.
"I couldn't attend in August because I took my R&R in May," said Rogers an Army Reserve finance officer whose family lives in Milwaukee, Wis. "I came to Iraq in December 2009."
Thanks to significant improvements in technology, it has become easier for many of us to stay connected via e-mail and a variety of web-based communication platforms. But even more interesting is the manner in which a seemingly-simple social networking site, originally created to connect students, has become a way for those who have lost touch through the years to re-connect.
"I don't know whether she or I had the Skype idea, but it kind of piggybacked on the photos, and Facebook, and sharing the collage as a means of communicating while I am over here," said Rogers, who was one of 485 students in her graduating class. "Plus I typed up a little summary of what I do as a budget officer here in Iraq."
The pair made arrangements to close the gap of some 8,500 miles by ensuring a computer was set up at the reunion, and then at 10:00 p.m. in Wisconsin people could stop by and chat with Rogers who would be logged on from here.
"I called in at 6 a.m. Sunday morning Iraq time," she said. "They had a computer set up in the back of the ballroom with just me on the other end of this computer and then a line of folks that kept going for like an hour-and-a-half. It was really, almost emotional I felt the connection of being there and talking to very dear friends.
"They expressed such an appreciation for all the troops here and all the support personnel. They really appreciate what we're doing and so it was just a lot of kind words," said Rogers, fondly recalling her conversations with some 33 classmates that morning. "They had a lot of questions, about how I am doing away from my family; what I miss most about the states; what do I value now that I am here, and I said my freedom, the freedom to move about. I told them I'm going to kiss the ground when I get home, kiss the U.S. soil."
Although fast Internet connections in Iraq are rare, the lines were clear enough during the early morning time frame for Rogers to held her special Skype session with her friends and loved ones half-a-world away.
"My connection was decent because it was so early here, but I find if I Skype with my family later that the bandwidth is mostly jammed so it's hard," said Rogers, who has been married for seven years to James Rogers and is a mother of twin boys.
Of the folks that lined up to chat with her, Rogers says that she had not seen some of them in 25 years, so she was surprised they took time to reconnect.
"You feel like you are a part of them," she said. "A lot of my female friends were wondering about family issues; they were all concerned about 'oh are you missing your kids'' They all have kids my age, or older, so they have that connection."
She also found that some of the connections were a little more special, due to a shared military experience acquired over the past 25 years.
One of her friends, Tim Anklam, served in the Army for 25 years, and "he just retired as a master sergeant, only two weeks prior to our reunion," she said. "Back in high school I didn't know him very well but now we've got the military experience to talk about every time we get together."
That morning, she learned she had more in common with others as well.
"There was another female who served in the Army Nurse Corps by the name of Sara Rieckmann-Hines, and she is now retired as well. I didn't realize she had any military time, or was a nurse," she said. "But she has a 6-year-old son and a 9-year-old son, so she was real sensitive to the fact that I'm away from my twin sons that are 6.
So touched by her positive experience, Rogers is now spearheading an effort to help her classmates can keep in touch more often than every half-decade.
"I am trying to initiate a once-a-year summer gathering at a local bar and grill rather than waiting five years," said Rogers who will be returning to the states in about 90 days. "I've already got kind of a committee formed and we're going to make that happen.
For sidebar - Rogers, who was one of 485 students in her graduating class, says that she's been able to stay close with many of her friends from high school through the help of Facebook.
"Facebook has helped us to kind of have a network as well, it has kind of revitalized our friendship," said Rogers who said that she knew most of her classmates due to serving as class speaker. "Being deployed, that cooperative site helps me to keep in contact, and it helps with my morale. It's fun to be able to know what's going on in their lives and they encourage me through Facebook."