What kind of animals do soldiers eat in Iraq? Where do they sleep at night? Are they afraid of wild dogs?
First- and second-graders at Bellview Elementary School fired off a slew of questions to Cpl. Stephan Moriarty in Tallil, Iraq, Tuesday, thanks to Skype video-conferencing technology.
And Moriarty's children, Connor Gilliland and Annessa Moriarty, both 7, got to see their dad for the first time in months.
"It was pretty impressive," Annessa said. "It's cool to have a dad who serves in the Army. I'm proud of him."
Moriarty happily responded to all the questions, which had been e-mailed to him the day before.
He sleeps inside and eats regular food, he explained, his image projected on a 4-by-6-foot Smartscreen. And the wild dogs of Iraq, which the children had seen on TV, pose no danger to humans, he said.
Moriarty is a vehicle commander for Alpha Company of the Oregon Army National Guard's 1st Infantry Battalion, based in Medford. He told the children he spends his leisure time studying Arabic, learning the guitar and playing video games.
The coolest part "was when he flashed his gun," said Connor, who has lost his two front teeth since he last saw his father.
The weapon is an M4 fully-automatic carbine with an M203 grenade launcher.
His wife, Sabena Moriarty, who watched the exchange with the children, has been able to converse with her husband via Skype on the phone, but the visual part has been missing for months because of a computer recall. Connor's teacher, Craig Martin, suggested they arrange for a Skype exchange in class.
It was an emotional experience for her children, Sabena said, with Annessa "having a little meltdown because she's so happy to see him" and Connor keeping his feelings inside until he got home, where he comes to Mom to cry almost daily.
"It was really good," says Annessa. "I was pretty surprised it was going to happen in school."
The Moriartys have a blended family of seven children, with an eighth on the way. Besides caring for her children, Sabena is taking classes online to earn a business degree.
"It's amazing to see him," said Sabena, a former air traffic controller in the Marine Corps. "I miss him so much. We're very close. We're best friends. We couldn't be any closer."
Her husband is in charge of security for transport of food, fuel and dry goods for civilian purposes, Sabena said.
Moriarty also conducts patrols as an infantryman, said his stateside boss, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Dalton.
"It's hard, long and hot over there," Dalton said. "Seeing and hearing family makes all the difference."
Moriarty is a career Guardsman who serves on a funeral honors team, helping provide a 21-gun salute, the folding of the flag and other services for those who've lost a member of the military, Sabena said.
In Iraq since July, Moriarty is stationed about 300 miles southeast of Baghdad and is due back in the U.S. in May.
Annessa's teacher, Renee Gardener, observed that for her students, "it's always been war since they were born."
"When you see one of your kids (talking to a dad in a war zone), it brings tears to your eyes and touches your heart," she said.
Martin said students brainstormed their questions ahead of time.
"The kids were great, very interested and they sat still for 25 minutes, which is very unusual for first-graders," he said.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.