The Navy's Seabees can build a landing strip on a bit of coral emerging from the waves, create paved roads in the middle of a hostile war zone, but Seabee Noel Ramirez, currently deployed in Fallujah, Iraq, needed help to see his son Josh graduate from Hesperia High School.

When the naval reservist was activated in January, he knew he would be missing graduation in March.

"Yeah, it was really tough," Josh Ramirez said. "A lot of memories that he's missing on."

Laura Ramirez contacted the New Jersey-based Freedom Calls, and on Thursday, he watched Josh walk across the stage of the Glen Helen Pavilion in Devore from 7,625 miles away in Iraq.

"Originally my dad wanted to record a video, and have it played for me, but from there, it went into a whole videoconferencing thing," Josh Ramirez said. "After that, we were able to go in this conference room and have a good conversation."

The Freedom Calls Foundation provides free video conferencing, telephone and Internet services via satellite to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to help them keep in touch with family and loved ones back home. The foundation is entirely funded by donations from the public.

"I woke up at about 3 a.m. and walked over to the chapel annex, a small building next to the chapel," said Petty Officer Noel Ramirez by e-mail from Iraq, where he's serving with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 17. "There was nobody there but all I had to do was be there at 4 a.m. and the computer would automatically dial the facility in Devore, California. Had the [graduation] been during working hours, Chief Martinez would have given me the time to view the ceremony."

"Nothing means more to these families than to be able to stay connected," said Kathryn Hudacek, the foundation's Director of Development. "I'm not belittling any other efforts, but people don't cry when they get a care package of toothpaste. But these people get to see their families."

"It was overwhelming what I felt as I saw him walk on the stage," said Noel Ramirez, who described it as a "once in a lifetime memory that I will never forget.

"My husband always says that we're all serving in this war," Laura Ramirez said, "With him not being here for milestones."

"I am very proud of my family," Noel Ramirez said. "They have for the first time had to learn to live and function without my presence."

Noel expects to be home in time for Thanksgiving.

For more information about the Freedom Calls Foundation, visit http://www.FreedomCalls.org/

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.