Doorbell camera kept Minnesota kids close to father deployed overseas
FOREST LAKE, Minn. -- Peter DeCrans bought his family a Ring video-doorbell camera for Christmas last year while he was stationed overseas.
DeCrans, of Forest Lake, figured the security measure would bring peace of mind while he served in the Middle East with the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division -- the “Red Bull” unit.
It brought so much more.
Each day, his two children, Zerick DeCrans, 7, and Petroula DeCrans, 5, used the device to record a quick message for him before they left for school. They left nearly 100 heartfelt and humorous messages during his 10-month deployment in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In one video clip, Petroula, wearing an aqua-blue t-shirt and polka-dot leggings, peers into the doorbell camera and says: “Hi Daddy, I miss you so much! I hope you come back home.”
Zerick, wearing a blue Superman T-shirt, adds: “I want to see you soon, Daddy. Please, I really want you to come back. Bye, Daddy, I’m going to school to learn a lot!”
DeCrans, 39, said the short video clips were the highlight of his day.
“It was one of the best things ever, a little slice of home,” DeCrans said. “When you’re gone that long, you miss your kids, and you want to see them. It’s a way to feel connected to what’s going on.”
He got to see new haircuts, funny faces and awesome dance moves. He heard about major life events like Petroula’s 5th birthday -- she wore a princess tiara and brought cookies to school -- and Zerick “graduating up” to a two-wheeled bike.
“All I need for help is to push. Then I’m all going by myself -- with no training wheels, Dad!” Zerick, wearing his baseball jersey, explained. “How cool is that?”
“It was just part of the routine,” DeCrans said. “They’d get dressed for school, and then they’d swing outside and leave a quick message telling me about their day. … One day Zerick had really long hair, and the next day he had a buzz cut because he had a wood tick in his hair, and he didn’t want long hair anymore.”
Another added bonus: DeCrans got a daily weather report.
“I got to see the change in seasons,” he said. “It would be snowing out in Minnesota, but it’s 70 degrees in Kuwait. It was nice to see what the weather was like and what they were wearing for the day.”
Although he spoke to his wife, Cierra, every day, it was harder to connect with the kids because of the eight-hour time difference. “We weren’t going to wake them up at 2 a.m. to talk to me,” he said.
His father-in-law, Charles Kinsley, of Truman, Minn., came up with the idea of having the children use Ring technology to stay in touch with their father 7,000 miles away.
“Because, prior, every time my wife went to take a video, she’d have to set up the tripod or whatever,” he said. “This was just super-easy where they could send me a video right in the morning, right before they went to school. You don’t even have to press any buttons, you just walk over and leave a message.”
DeCrans returned the messages each day with his own videos of him reading children’s books to the kids on his Kindle app on his cell phone.
DeCrans, who works as an art teacher at North Branch Area High School, returned to Minnesota in July. He was previously deployed to Iraq for 22 months from 2005 to 2007 and served for 10 months in Iraq and Kuwait in 2011 and 2012.
Being able to access Ring also allowed DeCrans, who recently retired as a major from the National Guard “after 20 years and 2 months,” to keep up with the comings and goings of the neighborhood, he said.
“It was great seeing the neighbor kids coming to sell Girl Scout cookies and Christmas wreaths -- things like that,” he said.
DeCrans contacted Ring officials when he returned from overseas to share his family’s story. The company featured the family in a blog post in November.