May 16, 2013
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Dad Skypes grad into the U.S. Navy

By Tom Campbell

Keely Hughes
Through Skype technology, Lt. Col. Shawn Hughes participated in his daughter’s commissioning ceremony, despite being deployed in Afghanistan. (Photo provided.)

Leaving family behind for a military deployment is never easy. But Marine Lt. Col. Shawn Hughes knew six months ago that his latest deployment to Afghanistan might be his toughest.

A career soldier with 28 years of service, Hughes knew a May deployment meant he would miss seeing his oldest daughter, Keely, be commissioned as a U.S. Navy ensign on May 10 and attending her graduation from Purdue’s College of Agriculture biochemistry program the next day.

“It was probably the biggest weekend of my life,” Keely Hughes said.

But thanks to technology, Shawn Hughes not only witnessed the commissioning, but he actually got to take part in it, despite being eight time zones away from the Purdue campus. Through a Skype hookup, he read the oath that transformed his daughter from a Purdue student to a U.S. naval officer.

“It was definitely an emotional time for all of us,” Keely said. “I’ve never seen him smile so much in my entire life, and I was trying to fight back tears the whole time. It was the first time any of my family had seen him since he was deployed in late April.”

In early April, Keely had a conversation with her executive officer in Purdue’s ROTC program, Cmdr. Michael Huff.

“I told him my dad wasn’t going to be there, and I asked if there was any way he could watch on Skype. Commander Huff was the one who made it all happen.”

Hughes family
The Hughes family got together to see Keely become a U.S. naval officer and Purdue graduate on the same weekend. Under Lt. Col. Shawn Hughes’ proud gaze are (left to right) Morgan, 13; Matthew, 6; Michele, Keely's mom; Thomas, 4; Keely; Hunter, 15; Daniel, 11; and Brittany, 21, Keely’s twin. (Photo provided.)

Huff put the wheels in motion to make sure Keely’s father could be in the room, even if it was only a pale image on a projector screen inside Stewart Center. After all, her father was the one most responsible for getting his daughter interested in the military.

“My dad asked me to consider ROTC back when I was a junior in high school,” Keely said. “So I applied for the Navy ROTC.” (Sorry, Dad, the Marine ROTC program did not interest her.)

Keely reports to active duty next month in Norfolk, Va., where she will serve as a surface warfare officer on board the USS Laboon, a Navy destroyer.

Her Navy commitment is a minimum of four years. After that, Keely says she would like to put her biochemistry degree to use as a high school teacher.

She has plenty of experience as a teacher as well.

“When I was growing up, we would always play school,” Keely said. “I was always the one who got to be the teacher for all of my siblings.”

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