Soldiers must be prepared for many things, but the celebrity buzz of the red carpet is not a scenario that automatically springs to mind. However, on 24th April this year, troops stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Tacoma, Washington were treated to a joint premiere with the Iron Man 3 cast in Hollywood, California in an event sponsored by Skype in order to show America’s appreciation for the U.S.Military: “4 families. 2 movie premieres. 1 wonderful night.”
JBLM, in use since 2010, is home to over 25,000 soldiers in the army and air force. Skype, released by Estonian developers in 2003, produced a video of that unique evening, which includes interviews with four soldiers and their families, speaking of the homesickness of those who protect the United States.
The video opens on a JBLM airfield, voices of stars at the premiere ring out, that of Gwyneth Paltrow stating, because of them “when my son is lying in bed at night, I can tell him that we’re safe”. An important sentiment in the aftermath of 9/11.
Specialist Mitchell Meler joined the army at 18 years old. His mother speaks emotionally to the camera, as she recounts how he was soon deployed to Iraq for 6 months. Meler himself acknowledges “how much you realise you can’t talk to them in person” when you’re actually gone. Airman Jen Janik concurs: “Travelling all over the world, you don’t actually have a phone, so I cherish every moment that I get to talk to my loved ones.”
It was her loved ones whom she got to see and, indeed, to speak to thanks to Skype’s technology. Her family were allowed (for probably the only time in their lives) to rub shoulders with celebrities, speaking live from the red carpet, thanks to a custom-built ‘Skype Suite’ at JBLM, which linked to ‘an over-sized monitor projecting Skype’s video call’ at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles. As the presenter aptly broadcast, “Skype is making memories happen here tonight, between Iron Man and you, the real heroes”.
A soldier’s tough life indeed makes them true heros, the likes of which films such as Iron Man portray in superhero form. These soldiers are very human, however. Specialist Duran admitted that, “Being away from my family is rough […] It takes a big toll on your life.”
The mother of Private First Class Vasquez, in the army for over a year, explains how difficult it was “to just let him go”. As Pfc. Vasquez himself haltingly confessed, “It just hurts sometimes.” Through Skype, hopefully that hurt was a little less. As Vasquez’s mother called from the red carpet, “This is our big event, me and you.”
With Iron Man frequently joining forces with Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and even X-Men, this character is a superhero perfect for comparison with those in the U.S Military – team players in the fight against terrorism. Skype has indeed made memories for the families of the soldiers, for the children of the future.