Earlier today a group of Iowans got to speak with their loved ones in Iraq. Six of the soldiers’ relatives were gathered in a conference room near the state capitol. The two soldiers were there — on a video screen — talking and interacting with their loved ones via a two-way connection set-up and paid for by a California-based foundation. Family members in Osceola send e-mails and talk on the phone from time to time with Sergeant Heather Brown, who is stationed in Fallujah.

But Sergeant Brown’s husband, Rob, hadn’t seen his wife since October, just before she shipped out to Iraq. "I feel lucky that I’m able event to visit with her on closed-circuit TV.," Brown said. "She looks like she’s taking really good care of herself." You can hear the snapping of cameras on-hand to document the Browns’ conversation. It was the first video teleconference set up for an Iowa soldiers by the non-profit "Freedom Calls" foundation and broadcast over the fiber optics network owned by the State of Iowa.

After seeing his wife on the video screen, Brown told reporters it appears to him that she’s lost weight. "She looks really good. They say that TV. puts on ten pounds, but I don’t agree with that. I’m going to have to start taking better care of myself, too," Brown said, laughing. "No more fast food." Sergeant Brown’s inlaws — Bob and Diana Brown of Patterson, were there to see their daughter-in-law, too.

"It’s really great to see her," Brown’s father-in-law told reporters, adding he had only been able to communicate with her via e-mail before. Mother-in-law Diana Brown has been sending Sergeant Brown letters via traditional mail service, and it has taken two weeks for them to reach her in Iraq. Official say "thousands" of Iowa soldiers serving in three areas in Iraq can now set up these video conferences with their family members back home.

The first "conversation" can last an hour, then the soldiers will be able to have monthly half-hour-long video teleconferences back to Iowa. The Iowans who’re "stateside" will be stationed in one of the 750 Iowa Communications Network sites around Iowa for the conversations