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Skype helps father and sons stay in touch

February 19, 2010

Mark Benda and his sons, Justin and Carter 
Mark Benda and his sons, Justin and Carter
By JoAnn Biren
Ask Carter and Justin Benda what Skype is and they can quickly tell you it helped them see their dad as they talked to him in Iraq via their grandmother's computer. Although they are only 5 and 9 years old and might not be familiar with the terminology or the technology behind the program, they like the idea that they were able to connect with their dad, Mark, the son of Grandma Carol and Grandpa Chuck Benda, during his recent deployment to Iraq.

Google Skype and you'll find instant answers to your questions as to what the computer software is. It helped Mark Benda, a member of the 114 th

Fighter Wing out of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Air Guard, and his sons make the weekly calls home from the desert more personal. The kids could

see Dad, even his shorter haircut, joke with him and show off some for him, even though he was in Iraq and they were staying with their grandparents in Slayton. "I think it meant more to the kids, made it more

meaningful, more personal, like he was in the room," Chuck explained.

According to one website Skype was founded in 2003 and, although based in Luxemburg, boasts offices in Europe as well as in the United States and Asia.

Looking at www.aboutSkype one finds out quickly that Skype is responsible for eight percent of global international calling minutes and is the leading global internet communications company with all voice and video and Skype to Skype calls free.

Ask Carter and Justin how they like Skype and they quickly talk about making faces at their dad and Carter blowing his whistle.

Carol Benda was the one who first discovered Skype and what it could do for her family. "I really didn't think much about it until January. I had been reading about it and thought, 'This is what the boys would like to do'." She was right.

There is a set-up for Skype in Iraq and it didn't take Mark long to find out what it was and how it worked. He was anxious to keep in touch with the boys and although phone calls were good, the opportunity to see his children was something even better.

"The first time we used it, it was perfect," Carol Benda said of the program. "Then it went downhill."

She credits Margo of Combined Computer in Slayton with a lot of the technological advice she received as she worked out the bugs in the program. "First we couldn't hear, then we could hear but couldn't see," she explained. She has learned to use computer terms like modem and router with skill. Carol's laptop is set up on the dining room table and a click of her mouse brings a voice up with an British accent who directs the user to Skype.

Mark, on the other hand, had the assistance of a fellow airman who helped him get started. "Once you do it, it's not that hard," Mark explained. He

was also the one who had to initiate the call. There is a time difference of nine hours between Slayton, Minnesota and Iraq, thus he would have to

log on around four in the morning in order to connect with his children in the evening.

The first time his sons saw him on Skype their reactions were similar. "He had a haircut," Justin said. "I also had a headset on," Mark explained, which made him look different to his sons. "Carter didn't want to start talking to Mark until it was time for him to shut down," Grandma Carol added. The length of time they could be on-line was about thirty minutes, as the wait for the computers at the base Mark was stationed at in Iraq was long.

Seeing and talking to Dad via Skype was one way the youngsters were able to keep in touch. Another, sponsored by the USO, was the United Through Reading Military Program. Mark would pick out a book he thought his boys would enjoy hearing him read. The book would be sent to the boys in Slayton and Mark would tape a reading. Thus when the DVD of the taping and the book arrived, Carter and Justin could follow along while watching their dad read a bedtime story to them. "Green Eggs and Ham" is still

Carter's favorite, while Justin was leaning to read along with a story about Babe Ruth.

Mark, whose job it was to deliver bombs to jets on the flight line, is back in Slayton now. He left Balad on February 9, headed for Qatar on a C-130 and then waited there until more of the unit showed for the flight home. They had a brief stop in Ireland before they were back in the air and headed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. By the time the plane landed at the base in Sioux Falls on Friday evening, excitement in the Benda family was reaching a peak. "We were filling up with gas when we saw the plane overhead!" Carol said.

One can only imagine the feelings that raced through the minds of Carter and Justin. Their dad was home again. Skype could be put on hold. First order of business was snowmobiling. Mark was glad to be back home and Carter and Justin were happy to have their dad back safe and sound.

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