FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – Christina Favila wanted to look her best. She hadn't been face to face with her husband since Christmas, when his Army Reserve unit shipped out to Iraq (search).
The 24-year-old mother of three picked a crisp silvery-white tailored blouse and tan slacks, and carefully applied her soft pink lipstick.
"I feel like I'm going on my first date," said Favila, her dark brown hair freshly streaked.
All this fuss for just 10 minutes together — and they wouldn't even be in the same hemisphere.
The reunion came last weekend via a 7,500-mile live video link between this Army post in San Antonio and a U.S. base in Mosul (search), where Pfc. Juvenal Favila Jr. works as a clerk with the 228th Combat Support Hospital.
Almost since the war began in 2003, such high-tech hookups have provided morale boosts for soldiers who get to see their brides or children born after they were deployed.
Christina Favila had no watershed event to share — just a chance to see her husband again.
She wanted to tell Juvenal that 6-year-old Aliea is doing well in kindergarten and she's become Mommy's big helper. And that Misty Rae, 3, and Ethan, almost 2, are settling down after weeks of confusion and anger after he left.
She also wanted to tell Juvenal that a care package with beef jerky, shampoo and other desirables was on the way, and to mention their anniversary. They married five years ago on Valentine's Day.
It's not that the Favilas have lost touch. They regularly speak by phone and swap e-mails, and Christina has sent Juvenal more than two dozen letters, usually written in the wee hours of the morning.
The chance to see each other while talking, however, added excitement and comfort to the conversation.
"I'll be able to see him, exactly his face expressions and everything that he is doing," she said. "And the kids, I want to see their reaction. They don't really know why they're here. They think they're here for pictures."
The schedule keeper eventually called out "Favila," and the family made the short walk from a waiting area to the makeshift conference room.
There, a wide-screen television showed a black-and-white image of a young man with a tight haircut and steel-rimmed glasses. He was smiling and waving. A small camera lens poked out from atop the TV to transmit their image to the Middle East.
"Look, that's Daddy!" gushed Maria Lopez, Christina's mother. "Say 'Hi Daddy, we love you, we miss you."'
But Aliea could only stare silently at the TV, tears rolling down her cheeks. Misty Rae, in her grandmother's arms, pointed at Juvenal while Ethan ran around the tables and chairs.
"I didn't tell them," Christina explained to her husband. "They're shocked to be looking at you right now."
The picture was fuzzy and the sound delayed and distorted, but it was him.
"Aliea, how're you doin' baby?" Juvenal, 23, asked gently. "Misty, I've got your Care Bear."
The children showed him the Valentine's Day card they made on a sheet of poster paper. A big red heart was glued in the middle, and around it they drew flowers and butterflies.
"Who made that card for me?" Juvenal asked. "It's beautiful."
Juvenal, a tile installer in San Antonio before his reserve unit was called up, smiled and laughed.
"Tell everybody I'm doing OK, I'm doing fine," he said. "I miss you very much. I love you all."
Christina barely managed to say "I love you, too" before covering her face with her hands and sobbing.
He blew kisses and stepped out of the camera's view, leaving the chair empty until the next soldier sat down for his long-distance visit.