When John and Katie Arber, of Eldersburg, went to Camden Yards to see the Orioles play July 14, a surprised awaited them. It originally seemed to be a pretty ordinary outing, except the brother and sister, 22 and 24, respectively, had received a phone call telling them they had won free tickets, apparently as a part of a contest they won by their older brother Kevin being on active duty.
The siblings were instructed to make sure they were in their seats between the fourth and fifth innings. As they chowed down on their nachos, they heard cheers erupt around them. They looked to the Jumbotron and there, projected on the ballpark's video board, 74.5 feet wide by 27 feet tall, was their brother, Capt. Kevin Arber, who is currently stationed in eastern Afghanistan.
The captain introduced himself amid screams at the ballpark saying hello to his family and that he would be home soon.
The pre-recorded message was a part of a new program this year sponsored by AT&T, called AT&T Connects, in which the telecommunications giant reaches out to active-duty military who are typically only able to sporadically communicate with their families, and allows them to send video messages to relatives back home. The company orchestrated John and Katie Arber's trip to the game.
Though the 19-second shout-out on the jumbotron was a just a snippet, John and Katie said they were excited to see their brother.
The Arbers are a close-knit family, the siblings said. The trio grew up in Eldersburg, all attending Liberty High School. Over the years, Kevin has been deployed on three tours, including his current one, the first to Iraq, the other two to Afghanistan.
His present tour is most worrisome, Katie Arber said, because he's on the front lines.
When Kevin is home, Katie said, the siblings only can visit him four, maybe five, times a year because he travels cross country so much, so they like seeing their brother in person, rather than only sending a quick email, their typical medium of communication.
They've tried video services, Skype and mobile applications, but the shoddy Afghani Internet services prevent long talks, Katie Arber said.
"There's a delay, so it's hard to get a good feed," she said.
The emails, and his quick appearance at the Orioles game reassures the siblings until Kevin comes home, which is slated to be at the end of November or beginning of December, they said.
Then, Kevin wants to vacation on a cruise to the tropics, or perhaps throw another party, like the kind his family and friends put together for his birthday last year. They roasted a whole pig at their home and just celebrated.
"Until then, we just keep in touch," Katie said.