When Shelley Ray found out that her son Scott was going to be promoted to staff sergeant, she had mixed emotions. Of course, she was proud of her son, who has been in the Army for four years, but also sad that she could not be with him on that special day.
Scott, a Columbia native who serves with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, has been deployed since November on his second tour of duty in Iraq as a tank crew member.
Even though she could not physically be with him, Ray was excited to learn she could witness her son's promotion via video teleconference at Fort Jackson.
"He called and said that (his commanding officers) were trying to arrange (the VTC) through Fort Jackson," Shelley said.
In addition to Shelley, Scott's two brothers and sister as well as their spouses and children were in attendance.
"We're all excited. This is a first. We haven't seen him since before he deployed in November," Shelley said before the start of the VTC.
The Ray family not only witnessed Scott's promotion ceremony, but also had the chance to see and talk to Scott for an hour.
The teleconference was set up by Aretha Williams, VTC specialist for the Directorate of Information Management. She explained that to have a VTC between deployed troops and family members arranged, the service member makes a request through his or her chain of command, which then coordinates the event with officials at Fort Jackson.
Williams mostly sets up VTCs for official business, but the ones connecting Soldiers with their families are special to her.
"I love doing the morale VTCs," she said. "The purpose of the morale VTCs is to reconnect family members. It allows family members to see their loved ones and see how well they're doing. Actually seeing someone is so much better than just talking to them over the telephone."
Shelley emphatically agrees.
"I just can't tell you how wonderful it was. He looks great, he sounds great, and we're so proud of him," she said. "To be given the opportunity to see him, giving him his new stripes, was just ... words can't describe, just incredible.
"We appreciate Fort Jackson's contributions to this as well as whoever coordinated on the other end in Iraq. It was just a win-win situation. We're very thankful for the opportunity."