By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2012 – While deployments can be especially difficult for service members and their families during the holidays, the Joint Hometown News Service helps “bring the troops home” by broadcasting them directly into their loved ones' living rooms.
This holiday season, some 1,600 service members sent 15-second televised and radio broadcast holiday wishes home, produced by the news service's holiday greetings program.
Camera crews fanned out to 15 military bases in various countries to capture troops' personalized holiday greetings this year in time-honored annual tradition, and the news service distributed the finished products to nearly 4,500 hometown commercial media outlets such as radio and television stations, said Natasha Schleper, the news service's broadcast chief at Defense Media Activity, Fort Meade, Md.
"It's a big ocean that splits them up," Schleper said of troops and their families. "Even if it's for only 15 seconds, it helps bridge that gap."
The holiday greetings program is a nostalgic one in the Defense Department, she said. "People expect to see them," Schleper said of the holiday greetings crews.
The news service visits different countries each year, Schłeper explained, and this year, crews of one to two people recorded greetings in Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, Guam, Korea, Japan, Spain and Greenland.
A crew shot 100 holiday greetings in just two days while in Rota, Spain, she said, and two photographers who were on a news story assignment in Greenland also were able to record holiday greetings at Thule Air Base, which is 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
American Forces Network Pacific and AFN Europe, in addition to various military public affairs offices, also helped shoot greetings in places where the news service crews were unable to travel, she added.
"We're grateful to those folks who helped us," Schleper said. "They have their own missions to accomplish; missions that don't stop while they're assisting us. It's a lot of extra work for them, and we hope they know the families at home appreciate their efforts."
The news service's soldiers and airmen who travel to record the holiday greetings spend about 30 days in the road, with one or two days off during their entire temporary duty, Schleper said, adding that most days are spent traveling.
"It's a tough trip with a lot of obstacles to overcome, and it takes making command decisions and working through any issues that arise," she said, "and issues know where to find [the news service] while on the road, from working through three typhoons in Korea [to] arriving late in the night in Italy, only to find the rental car company closed and no hotel room available."