LAGRANGE, Maine — Thanks to an Internet video communication service called Skype, Jen Baker can talk to her husband, Tech. Sgt. Joe Baker, in Iraq from their home in town as many as three times a week.
They usually discuss their kids, her ongoing renovations to the house, her travails as a substitute teacher — always honestly, but with a slightly upbeat tone lest the roughly 10,000 miles between them, and his presence in a war zone, get too oppressive, she said.
Monday’s talk was a little bit better.
Baker and his supervisor, Chief Master Sergeant and fellow LaGrange resident Dennis Wellman, spoke to their families — including Baker’s son and daughter — and just about everybody at Marion C. Cook School for about an hour Monday morning by Skype. State Sen. Elizabeth Schneider and several American Legion members also attended.
The sound and picture were a bit wobbly, but the conversation was warm and, for the children, educational.
Gathered around a large movie screen where the two soldiers’ flickering image was displayed, the nearly 100 pupils, parents, veterans and educators celebrated Veterans Day in the school gymnasium by thanking Baker and Wellman and veterans for their service to this country.
The pupils sang patriotic songs, read letters extolling veterans service, and pelted the servicemen with questions, which the two answered with modesty and patience. Baker and Wellman seemed flattered and said they enjoyed the contact with home, however fleeting.
“This is really enjoyable for us,” Wellman told the crowd. “This has been an outstanding thing. Joe and I are smiling from ear to ear.”
“It just shows the support we get for the work we are doing here,” Baker said. “It shows how the community is pulling together for us.”
Baker and Wellman are with the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Civil Engineer Squadron of Bangor serving a six-month tour at a base in Iraq — they declined to say where — with about 1,500 other service members.
Schneider thanked veterans for their selfless service.
“For some, becoming a veteran was a path chosen, for others the path was chosen for them,” she said. “Once the journey of military service begins, one’s life is no longer one’s own. Choices are replaced with commands, certainty is the knowledge that nothing is certain when it comes to one’s future.”
Wellman’s presence was a bit of a surprise, thanks to his colleague. He said he didn’t know that he would be speaking to an entire school until the camera came on.
The importance of duty, honor and patriotism; the work of the U.S. armed services; the need to honor veterans and to recognize service to things greater than oneself were among the lessons fourth- and fifth-grade teacher Mary Lynn Kazyka hoped to imbue in the 48 pupils attending the kindergarten through fifth-grade school, she said.
“We have always had celebrations honoring veterans,” Kazyka said. “This year the goal was to help Jen and Jared and Rachael [Baker’s children] get through their time without Joe, and to help the Wellman family.”
The school knows Baker from his teaching fire safety as a town firefighter, said Kazyka, who taught Baker when he was a boy.
“I am so proud of these children,” Kazyka said. “They have really taken to this and performed very well.”