In his 20-year career as a soldier, 1st Sgt. Michael McElveen has missed a lot of important moments with his family — birthdays, anniversaries, holidays.
But on Saturday he will get to watch his daughter, 18-year-old Fatima, walk across the stage and accept her high school diploma — even though he is still thousands of miles away in Iraq.
Seven high schools near Fort Campbell, the home of the Army's storied 101st Airborne Division, will broadcast their graduation ceremonies live over the Internet for the first time for family members stationed overseas.
"It gives me a wonderful fulfillment, knowing that although I'm here in Iraq, I will still have the `almost there' experience of watching my daughter walk across the stage," McElveen said in an e-mail.
More than 250 graduating seniors from seven schools in the area have parents who are on duty in Iraq, Fort Campbell spokeswoman Kelly Ann Tyler said. Altogether, more than 20,000 soldiers from the 101st Airborne are in Iraq.
"You miss a lot of significant milestone events when you're a soldier," Tyler said. "Anything you can do to bring that sense of home to the soldiers is appreciated."
The seven ceremonies, to be held Friday and Saturday on the Austin Peay State University campus, will be broadcast on a Web site that soldiers will be able to access wherever they are stationed.
Florida-based XOS Technologies, which provides audio and video software and Internet products to professional and college sports teams, set up the streaming video service free for the base.
"They will pull up a video window, just like watching a basketball game online, and they'll be watching their kids graduate," said Jeff Young, a company vice president.
McElveen's wife, Femia, said: "I think it will mean a lot in our case. It's his oldest child, the first to graduate."
Missed 16th and 18th birthdays, prom
Fatima, who will graduate from Northwest High in Clarksville on Saturday, said her dad has missed her 16th birthday, her 18th birthday and her senior prom. "I think he's been to one of my softball games, and I've been playing for three years," she said.
But she said the distance and separation are easier to handle because so many students in her school share the same problem.
"None of us are out of place because your dad's not here," Fatima said. "We all support each other."