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May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2


May 2006
Video Visiting Iraq


Seven-week old Ryan Stepenosky was fussing on his mother’s lap. Whenever she stopped bouncing him on her knee, he would pucker up and grimace.

“His father says that he’s going to need botox at the age of 20 because he frowns so much!” Tina Stepenosky laughs as she recalls the visit with her husband only a few moments earlier.
Father-and-son quality time is not common for Lieutenant Commander Jim Stepenosky, a group surgeon from Miramar Marine Corp Air Station. He is 7,700 miles away in Al Asad, Iraq and hadn’t seen his son in weeks. However, through a 30-inch LCD television, video cameras and a satellite link, he got to see a very welcome frown.

The Stepenoskys (and the Gogols, pictured above and right) are among the many families reconnecting with loved ones deployed in Iraq through video teleconferencing (VTC) at the UCSD Supercomputer Center. A Family Readiness Officer sets up a schedule where soldiers are assigned 30-minute time slots. Their families are invited to come to the Supercomputer facility where they are taught how to use the VTC equipment. They are then given a conference room for a private video meeting.

Supercomputer Center Director Jim D’Aoust read about the VTC setup for families in Camp Pendleton and knew that the UCSD Supercomputer Center would be a perfect location for families from the Miramar Station.

The program is held in partnership with Freedom Calls, an organization helping to build communication networks to keep families connected. VTC is available for families every Saturday. Either the soldiers in Iraq or their families at home can request to be part of the program. Organizers say that one of the problems is just getting the word out and letting families know how VTC works.

“Sometimes, families don’t know what it’s like, and how it works,” volunteer and VTC coordinator Dick Bartlett says. “But this will just get bigger and bigger.”

D’Aoust says that while the Supercomputer Center could hold up to six private VTC conferences simultaneously, setting up links in Iraq is more complicated. Bartlett is currently trying to raise $25,000, the amount needed to set up one link in Iraq.

It may sound expensive, but for families like the Stepenoskys, the few moments they can have together are priceless.

“I think it’s incredibly important for the guys over there,” Tina says. “They’re the ones who are homesick, who miss their families. I haven’t seen him this happy since we got married. And it was because he got to see his little boy.”

— Marnette Federis, ’06




UCSD News Release

San Diego Supercomputer Center at UCSD

Freedom Calls


"I think it’s incredibly important for the guys over there...They’re the ones who are homesick, who miss their families."