Calling Home For The Holidays, Via Video From Iraq

Nov 22, 2011
Originally published on November 24, 2011 8:01 am

For Lindsey Santana and her young family, video Web chats via Skype are an integral part of their lives. Her husband, Capt. Paul Santana, is a helicopter pilot serving in Iraq. And their video phone calls have helped them make the best of things during his deployment, which continues past this Thanksgiving.

The couple was also linked via video during the birth of their first child, Natalie, in West Virginia this past summer. And since then, Paul has been able to see his daughter "at least a few times a week," Lindsey tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

But while they're glad to be able to see one another, Lindsey and Paul acknowledge that the separation has also been a difficult one, at times.

"It was really hard for me at first. I would cry every time we would talk," Lindsey says. "But I love to just see him and know that he's OK. Because it's one thing to talk to him and hear his voice, but to see him and know that he really is fine helps me sleep better that night."

"We're obviously very fortunate that we've been able to communicate so often," Paul says. "It was very difficult with Natalie — you know, I'm very glad that I got to see her birth. But it was very difficult for me not to be there. And sometimes just talking to Lindsey and hearing Natalie — it reminds me I'm not there."

Paul's Army National Guard unit will be leaving Iraq sometime "within a couple weeks," he says.

With the withdrawal date looming, "a lot of people are still trying to find out if they're going to make it home for Christmas," he says. "And others are wondering which MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) may be the closest to their Thanksgiving dinner."

For her Thanksgiving meal, Lindsey plans to eat with her family — "we'll be thinking about Paul every second of it," she says. And she'll also save some turkey for her husband, she says, so he can have a sandwich when he returns home.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

About 20,000 American troops remain in Iraq on this Thanksgiving Day, but they're on their way out. Efforts to keep the troops there broke down after months of negotiations.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Obama now says almost all U.S. troops will be home from Iraq for the Christmas holiday. Some soldiers still deployed there ate their Thanksgiving meal early because the dining facility at Camp Liberty in Baghdad is closing as soldiers get ready to leave for good.

WERTHEIMER: We're joined now by Lindsey Santana, whose husband is deployed there. Good morning, Lindsey.

LINDSEY SANTANA: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: Also joining us is her husband, Captain Paul Santana, who is speaking to us from Iraq. Good morning, Paul. I guess it's not really morning.

CAPTAIN PAUL SANTANA: Oh, no. It's in the afternoon. Good morning to you.

WERTHEIMER: So Paul, have they let you know when you're coming home?

PAUL SANTANA: We have a window of time now, kind of within a couple weeks.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you have a new baby girl - you two - a little girl named Natalie. Paul, is it true that you were virtually there in the delivery room via Skype?

PAUL SANTANA: Yeah, that's correct. I'd just arrived in Iraq, and had just set up my Internet connection - up about 10 hours prior. When she gave me the call, I was able to watch the whole thing on video, which was - really was great.

WERTHEIMER: Do you two, then, keep in touch pretty easily? Have you been able to stay in touch during this deployment, Lindsey?

LINDSEY SANTANA: We've been really fortunate to have the technology that's enabled us to be connected. He got to see her almost every day.

WERTHEIMER: Almost every day.

LINDSEY SANTANA: Yeah, at least a few times a week.

WERTHEIMER: Paul, I understand that you're a Black Hawk helicopter pilot with the Army National Guard?

PAUL SANTANA: Yes, ma'am.

WERTHEIMER: This is your first deployment overseas. Is that right?

PAUL SANTANA: Yes, ma'am.

WERTHEIMER: So from what you hear from other people, do you think this Thanksgiving in Iraq feels a great deal different from the previous ones, now that everybody knows they're heading out?

PAUL SANTANA: Oh, sure. I mean, a lot of people are going to - still trying to find out if they're going to make it home for Christmas with, you know, a lot of people leaving. And others are wondering which MRE, you know, may be the closest to their Thanksgiving dinner. So it's...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: Now, being able to speak as frequently as you have over so many miles and over the months, have those calls been helpful, or have they been hard? I'm just wondering if being in touch, but not being in touch, how that works for you.

LINDSEY SANTANA: It was really hard for me at first. I would cry every time we would talk. But I love to just see him and know that he's OK. Because it's one thing to be able to talk to him and hear his voice, but to be able to see him and know that he really is fine helps me sleep better that night.

WERTHEIMER: And what about you, Paul?

PAUL SANTANA: Yeah. I think it has been, you know, wonderful but - we're obviously very fortunate that we've been able to communicate so often, but it is difficult. It was very difficult with Natalie when - you know, I'm very glad I got to see her birth, but it was very difficult for me not to be there. And sometimes the - just talking to Lindsey and hearing Natalie is - it reminds me I'm not there.

WERTHEIMER: Now, what are you going to do about Thanksgiving dinner? Lindsey, what are you going do?

LINDSEY SANTANA: Well, we're just going to have our normal Thanksgiving with my side of the family, and we'll be thinking about Paul every second of it.

WERTHEIMER: So are you planning on putting a little turkey in the freezer so you can make him a sandwich when he does get home?

LINDSEY SANTANA: Absolutely.

WERTHEIMER: Happy Thanksgiving.

LINDSEY SANTANA: Happy Thanksgiving to you.

PAUL SANTANA: You, too.

WERTHEIMER: Lindsey Santana - she joined us from West Virginia, where she's staying with her family. Captain Paul Santana joined us from Iraq. He's leaving there soon, coming home.

You can see a photo of the Santanas with their newborn daughter, at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.