Danette and David Branon had matching Marine Corps T-shirts and hopes of seeing their son to keep them warm during the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Columbia through rough Saturday morning winds.
Seven family members and friends joined the Branons on the ride from St. Louis — all hoping to catch a glimpse of Cpl. Christopher Branon, a 22-year-old Marine combat engineer serving in Fallujah, Iraq.
Last month, Branon and his parents and grandparents communicated through a videoconference for more than an hour, becoming the first family in Missouri to do so.
Families with relatives serving in Iraq can now see and talk to their loved ones through free videoconferences sponsored by MU Health Care’s telehealth program and the Freedom Calls Foundation of New York.
The program kicked off officially on Saturday morning in the MU School of Medicine. About 20 people attended, including MU Chancellor Brady Deaton and Pat Wilson, co-founder of the Columbia Military Family Support Group.
“I’m thrilled that we’re able to offer this to the families of Missouri,” said Joe Tracy, executive director of telehealth for MU Health Care.
Saturday, due to problems with the satellite, the Branon family was not able to speak with Christopher.
The family hopes to speak with him again in the next two weeks. David Branon said, “It’s important to see that your loved ones are OK.”
Stacy Apple, Christopher Branon’s aunt, who watched a recording of the December videoconference, said it felt like Christopher was in the room.
“He looked happy and healthy,” Apple said.
The videoconferencing facilities are located in 13 counties throughout Missouri, with six more on the way.
The service is only available only to families with relatives serving in or very near Camp Fallujah and Camp Cooke in Taji, Iraq. Tracy said videoconferencing will soon be available at Camp Al Asad.
The Freedom Calls Foundation plans to install eight facilities in Iraq and two in Afghanistan during the coming months.
To arrange a videoconference with a relative serving in Iraq, contact the Missouri Telehealth Network at 884-7958 or www.telehealth.MUhealth.org.