Freedom Calls from Freedom Hall to Unite Troops in Iraq with Loved Ones at Home
Frankfort, KY: Governor Ernie Fletcher announced an early Christmas gift for Kentucky soldiers stationed in Iraq, their families back home, and University of Kentucky and University of Louisville basketball fans everywhere.
Call it “Freedom Calls from Freedom Hall.”
On Saturday, December 18, the national ESPN feed of the UK/U of L basketball game will be piped into the U.S. government's video system in Iraq, and, in turn, the videoconference signal from Camps Fallujah and Cooke in Iraq will be transmitted into Freedom Hall's audio-visual system.
This will allow fans watching the game to see and hear the soldiers on the big-screen TVs in Freedom Hall, and the troops in Iraq will be able to see and hear coaches, players, and dignitaries express their love, support, and appreciation for their sacrifices.
The Governor said the "Freedom Calls" will be an example of the new state motto, "Unbridled Spirit," at its most passionate.
"The Freedom Calls are a small way for us to honor and thank the troops for their bravery. We are thrilled to provide this special communications bond for the soldiers, their families, the people of the Kentucky, and basketball fans everywhere," said Governor Fletcher. "On that day, the color of the biggest winner won't be red or blue, but U.S. Army khaki, the color of the strongest team in the world."
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith says the "Freedom Calls" will only add another special dimension to a game that captivates the basketball-crazy Commonwealth every year.
"Kentucky and Louisville compete hard every time we play," said Smith, "but this time the 'Freedom Calls' will force everyone -- coaches, players, and fans -- to put the game into perspective. It is only a game, not a matter of life and death. Many of the soldiers in Iraq are the same ages as our players."
The plan is to select 18 Kentucky soldiers from the Fallujah and Cooke military bases in Iraq, and then invite the families of those soldiers to come to Freedom Hall for the game. From one hour before until one hour after the game, two private video conference rooms will be available for the families and soldiers to have some personal time together.
During the pregame, commercial breaks, halftime, and after the game, the audio and video feeds from the soldiers will be piped into Freedom Hall.
"It's an awesome chance for our soldiers to be able to communicate with their families around this big rivalry game," said U of L Coach Rick Pitino. "We're real proud of the soldiers' efforts to keep our country safe from terrorism. I'm glad Kentucky soldiers will have this wonderful opportunity through 'Freedom Calls,' particularly during the holiday season."
The undertaking was the brainstorm of Rob Sprang, director of Kentucky TeleHealth Network (KTHN) at UK's A.B. Chandler Medical Center. KTHN will connect to the Freedom Calls Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that raises funds to place communication centers at the front lines. Currently, two “Freedom Calls” facilities are in place, with plans for more as funds are available. After the first of the year, KTHN will host “Family Freedom Festivals” across the state, helping hundreds of soldiers spend time with their families via videoconference technology.
Making Sprang's idea a reality involved a lot of communication and joint effort by ESPN, sports information directors Kenny Klein of U of L and Rob Stricklin of UK, the Governor's Office, and the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet, the home of the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center.
Harold Workman, president and CEO of KFEC, said this will be the first undertaking of its kind in the 57-year history of Freedom Hall.
"We are honored to host the families of our Kentucky soldiers and help them connect with their loved ones stationed in Iraq," said Workman. "Our endeavor is to make this event as seamless as possible and provide a memorable experience for the families.”
Governor Fletcher, a former Air Force pilot, understands better than most what a letter or phone call can mean to military personnel stationed far from their old Kentucky homes.
"This gives us a unique opportunity to wish a Merry Christmas to our sons and daughters who are in harm's way," Governor Fletcher said, "We want to assure them that our hearts and minds are with them even as we cheer for the Cats and the Cards."