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Air Force dad has special promotion ceremony

11/7/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

Honoring veterans this Veterans Day, Nov. 11

Maj. Ryan Harris was the honoree of a U.S. Air Force promotion ceremony Oct. 25 in front of his son’s first-grade class. He is shown at center with, on his left, U.S Ambassador to Lebanon, the Hon. David Hale, and the Senior Defense Attaché to Lebanon, U.S. Army Col. Antonio Banchs.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Harris
First-grader Xavier Harris is pictured with his teacher, Kathy Welsh.
Photo courtesy of Gina Harris
On Oct. 25, Kathy Welsh’s first-grade class at Fort Island Primary School was present for the promotion ceremony, projected on screen in the classroom, of U.S. Air Force Maj. Ryan Harris, the father of a student in her class. In front is Harris’ family, including son, Xavier; daughter, Sienna; and wife, Gina Harris.
Photo courtesy of Fort Island Primary School
FAIRLAWN — Fort Island Primary School first-grader Xavier Harris got to be present when his father, Maj. Ryan Harris, who serves in the U.S. Air Force, was promoted from captain to major Oct. 25. His whole class attended the ceremony, in fact, along with his mother, Gina; 4-year-old sister, Sienna; and uncle (Gina’s brother), Tony Boumadi, via webcam, as it took place in Beirut.

Kathy Welsh’s class of 19 students watched the ceremony live using Skype projected onto a Smart Board from an iPad so the entire class could see.

With Veterans Day (Nov. 11) near and the school’s Donuts for Dads program held earlier that week, when many of the other students’ fathers attended breakfast at the school, the timing was right for the call to take place, said Welsh.

Gina Harris credits Welsh for taking the initiative to set up the communication.

“If it wasn’t for her great idea, my son may not have been able to see the ceremony and congratulate his dad,” Gina said.

Initially, the students wrote letters to Xavier’s dad, but then she wondered if it might be possible to set up an Internet video call with him, said Welsh.

In response, Gina let Welsh know Ryan would be honored in a promotion ceremony Oct. 25, and the class was invited to attend via Skype. In Beirut, Ryan and his fellow officers set up technology to be able to see the class as they watched, said Welsh.

Ryan was officially promoted to major Oct. 2, after seven years as captain, Gina said. The promotion ceremony had to be put on hold, however, since most of the people working at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut were evacuated to Jordan while tensions heightened in Syria, she said.

With Ryan back in Lebanon, the day before the promotion ceremony, Gina received a call from U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, the Hon. David Hale, who said he wanted to officiate, she said.

During the ceremony, which took place at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the oath of office was administered by U.S. Army Col. Antonio Banchs, senior Defense Attaché to Lebanon.

Ryan was pinned by U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ulises Calvo, the deputy chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Beirut, and U.S. Army Maj. Charles Canon, training and engagements officer.

Banchs made sure Xavier and his classmates knew what was going on during the ceremony, approaching the camera with updates, causing giggles in the classroom, Gina said.

“He really got the kids involved,” she added.

The call lasted around 25 minutes, Gina said, which could have felt like a long time for first-graders.

But the children were rapt, Welsh said.

“You could have heard a pin drop,” she added.

After the ceremony ended, Xavier approached the iPad to offer his personal congratulations to his dad.

“All the kids said, ‘Aww ...’ and my husband said everyone was tearing up on his end, too,” Gina said.

“The kids were wonderful. They thought it was really neat that they were meeting Xavier’s dad for the first time,” she added.

Ryan has been overseas for the past nine months and has nine more to go on his assignment, said Gina about where he serves as security assistant officer to the Office of Defense Corporation in Beirut. He helps the Lebanese army with their defense strategies, including budgeting and getting supplied with weapons they may need to protect themselves, said Gina.

When Ryan finishes this assignment in July, they’re not sure where he’ll get stationed, she said.

He has been in the Air Force for 10 years, which is about the same amount of time the two have been married, said Gina. The pair were college sweethearts who met at Capital University in Bexley, she said.

Gina, who was born in Lebanon and moved to the United States with her family when she was 2, hasn’t had the opportunity to visit Ryan, but they touch base nearly every day using an application that offers free international calls, or by email, she said.

During the school week, however, it’s difficult for Xavier to talk to his dad because of the seven-hour time difference, Gina said.

They do get to Skype on the weekends, she said.

Welsh, who has been teaching for 39 years, said this was her first experience with Skype.

She plans to stay in communication with Ryan so he can get to know the class, she said.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to have him get promoted” and to be a part of that, said Welsh. “It truly was very moving, very touching. Those are the two adjectives that come to mind.”

“The ambassador and all in attendance agreed that the participation of Mrs. Welsh’s first-grade class made the occasion even more special,” added Gina.

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