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From Iraq to Rosemont

March 27, 2009|By Mary O’Keefe

Rosemont Middle School students arrived early to school on Thursday in order to take a very special phone call.

Four soldiers serving with the 81st Brigade, 1-303 CAV, stationed since August in Al Taqaddum, Iraq spoke to the students via satellite communications. The seventh and eighth graders were members of the CJSF (California Junior Scholarship Federation), a school organization that emphasizes high academic standards and student community service. Last fall the organization raised over $600 for Freedom Calls Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has built a satellite network dedicated to providing state-of-the-art video conferencing, telephone and Internet services to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I had heard about Freedom Calls on [a news station],” said teacher Shannon Kracker. “I contacted them to find out how we could help.”

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The group held a fundraiser and donated the proceeds to the foundation. They also wrote letters to the troops.

“[The foundation] contacted us and asked if we would like to be part of the classroom [teleconference],” Kracker said.

Students entered the cafeteria about 8 a.m. and first heard from the foundation’s executive director, John Harlow. The computer link was audio and visual, with Harlow’s image appearing on a large screen on the school’s stage. Students could see their images reflected in a small portion of the screen.

Harlow said that the project was started when it was discovered that AT&T, which has exclusive rights to telephone communications with the military, was charging soldiers thousands of dollars to stay connected to their families.

He added that he wanted a way for soldiers to keep in touch and to not miss out on important events, like the birth of a child, while serving in the Middle East.

“This gave a unique opportunity for students to talk to military personnel serving and ask them direct questions,” Kracker said.

Harlow signed off, a low ringing tone was heard, and then Sgt. Thomas Davis, Specialist Joshua Lunn, Sgt. Wayne Ocampo and Staff Sgt. Aaron McCarthy appeared on the screen.

“Hi guys,” they said.

Students’ questions ranged from what the soldiers missed the most to wondering if they had ever shot anyone sniper-style.

The soldiers paused on that question.

“We don’t talk a lot about stuff like that over here,” said McCarthy. “We like to focus on the positive.”

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