COURTESY ISLAND STYLE IMAGES
Ethan Hale's winning letter earned his dad a Father's Day package consisting of a slide show of him and his brothers and a family portrait. Ethan, right, is with his brothers Dilan, 3, and Connor, 21 months.
Fathering from afar
Before 5-year-old Ethan Hale drifts off to sleep, his mommy tucks him into bed and gets him ready for his bedtime story with Daddy.
With a push of a button, Specialist Justin Hale, on deployment in Iraq, is reading fairy tales to Ethan and his two brothers -- Dilan, 3, and Connor, 21 months -- via DVD.
"The camp he is at has a program for the soldiers to read books to their children and then send the book and the DVD," Hale's wife Heather said.
The Hales moved to Hawaii in July 2005. Thirteen months later Justin left on deployment.
"He sends little video clips daily," Heather said. "(He also) calls every night so he can talk to the boys before they go to sleep."
The Hales are one of two families who won the Island Style Images Father's Day Portrait Contest, which rewards two deployed Hawaii-based soldiers with a special Father's Day gift. Hale and U.S. Army Maj. Mitch Watkins were selected after contestants submitted letters saying why their dads were deserving. Hale and Watkins will receive care packages consisting of a slide show of their families and a set of 5-by-7 pictures.
"Daddy was supposed to come home for my birthday on Sept. 12," Ethan wrote in his winning letter. "But the Army needs Daddy to stay longer. My little brother's birthday is the day after mine, too!"
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bethany Watkins and her children Hannah, left, Casey and Georgia, right, hold a picture of U.S. Army Maj. Mitch Watkins.
The Watkins family also has three children. And, just like Justin Hale, Mitch Watkins keeps in touch with his family -- wife, Bethany, daughters Heather, 11, and Georgia, 6, and son Casey, 2 -- via the Internet and through phone calls.
"He left in July (for Iraq)," Bethany said. "It will be almost one year that he's been gone. Luckily we have the computer. I show slide shows of him all the time (and) my 2-year-old climbs up on the computer and kisses his picture."
Georgia makes sure one of her daddy's shirts is under her pillow before she lays her head down and closes her eyes. "He always makes me feel better," Georgia said.
As the oldest, Hannah has the most memories of her father and thus the most to yearn for.
"It's not so fun anymore," Hannah said. "I miss playing with him. He used to jump with us on the trampoline and make us go real high."
But through e-mail and weekly phone calls, she can tell her dad about school and find out how he is doing.
Today, she wishes she could tell him, "I wish you were here and I miss you and thank you for being the best dad in the world. I love you."