BY MARY WICOFF
The brothers’ faces broke into big smiles when they saw their mother’s face on the screen. It didn’t matter that she was thousands of miles away — she still made it for Career Day at First Baptist Christian School.
Through the magic of Skype, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Eleana Beckman was able to answer the first-graders’ questions from her post in the United Arab Emirates.
Although they use Skype every day to talk to their mother, Alexavier Smith, 7, and Ashton Smith, 4, could barely contain their excitement.
“When are you coming home?” Ashton, a preschooler, asked.
“In one month. I can’t wait,” she answered. Beckman is expected to return stateside in May.
Beckman could see the children and answer their questions, and they could see and hear her. Due to a technical difficulty on her end, however, she had to appear on a telephone screen, rather than the large overhead screen that had been set up.
That didn’t stop the youngsters from enjoying the visit, and they asked questions about the food, weather and her job.
When Beckman said it was 110 degrees that day, the children responded with amazed “oooohs.” The coolest weather is in the 60s, she said.
Beckman explained she works in a clinic and drives an ambulance. At her most recent post in Virginia, she worked in pediatrics.
A student asked, “Do you take care of regular people or military?” and she answered, “a little of both.”
She also said she lives with three people in a room, and that she eats regular food on the base.
Alexavier asked, “Why would you want to work in the Air Force?” Beckman said the service gave her a chance to get out and explore the world.
Not letting up, he later asked why she went overseas.
“It’s part of the job,” said Beckman, who has been in the military almost 10 years. She then talked about what it’s like to serve her country, and how she gets to save lives of people who have been on the front lines.
At the end of the presentation, the children chimed in, “Thank you!”
First-grade teacher Lisa Young said, “We’ve been praying for you and we look forward to seeing you.”
It was Young’s idea to make Beckman part of the lessons on careers. She’s had several parents come in and talk about their jobs as nurses, a postal worker, principal, pastor and others; parents from Germany and Mexico also talked about their homelands.
She e-mailed Beckman to discuss the possibility of using a computer to bring her in, and Beckman agreed. It was about 9:30 p.m. overseas when the school connected with her Wednesday morning.
Also present was Dana Howe of Westville, who is the brothers’ caretaker while their mother is overseas.
Howe said her daughter, Erin Spangler, met Beckman in 2003, when both went through the final swearing-in ceremony with the Air Force. They went to boot camp together, but parted ways when Spangler was sent to Germany in 2009 and Beckman, an Indiana native, was stationed in Virginia.
Howe got to know Beckman through her daughter, and had visited her and the boys in Virginia.
When Beckman received orders to go overseas, she didn’t have family to watch her sons, and Howe volunteered. In October, she enrolled the boys at First Baptist.
“It’s been a trip,” said Howe, who’s had to work around her job as a postal worker with the Danville Post Office to take the boys to school and tae kwon do lessons. “It was rough at first.”
However, everyone has helped make the transition easier, as her single household became busy with children again.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” she said, adding she appreciates all that John and Jennifer Kruger with ATA Martial Arts have done, as well as her boss at the post office, the school and others.
“I can’t say enough how wonderful First Baptist School has been with the boys and myself. First Baptist has gone above and beyond, opening doors for the boys and myself,” she said.
Principal Bob Lazzell has told her that he’d help them any way he can.