A grateful soldier thanks caring kids
A soldier who received gifts and letters from a Seminole school came in to thank the kids in person with slides and stories.
By SHELLEY KINSER
Published April 3, 2005
SEMINOLE - An idea to cheer up a homesick soldier deployed to Iraq quickly became a class project for 27 third-graders at Bauder Elementary School.
A year ago, Denise Jones approached third-grade teacher Linda Proulx and suggested that the class send letters, pictures and personal items to a soldier who had been deployed to Iraq in March.
"With all that teachers have on their plates, it blew me away that Mrs. Proulx and Mrs. (Lisa) LeColst did this outreach," Jones said.
Lt. Jeremy White of the Army National Guard flew from Maine to Florida to thank LeColst's fourth-grade class for their heartfelt kindness and generosity in adopting him while he served this past year in Iraq.
The class began sending letters, photos, and drawings to White and four other soldiers in his company in the fall, culminating in three care packages sent before Thanksgiving.
The effort had a family ring to it - Jones, the mother of Marnie Jones, a student in LeColst's class, is White's aunt.
The response from the class was overwhelming.
"I was shocked. I figured a bag or two . . . the students and parents filled the back of the van," Jones said about last year's response.
The project continued and expanded with LeColst's class.
She sent a note home to parents with the names of White and four other soldiers who would appreciate letters as well as items to be sent in a care package.
Sunscreen, baby wipes, poker chips, decks of cards, pens and paper, candy and cookies, and personal items, such as deodorant, were included in the care packages. And, of course, boxes of macaroni and cheese.
Students chose one of the five names on the blackboard to correspond and send pictures and photos. The soldiers wrote back and sent photographs and drawings.
Just before Thanksgiving, LeColst filled out a customs list that specifically listed each item going to Iraq. The three boxes went to White who placed the items on a table with a sign for fellow soldiers to take.
The soldiers were all touched.
"The communication helps the students realize these are stories of real people. This happens in the world. It teaches empathy and to walk in other people's shoes," LeColst said.
Last Wednesday, White, 28, came to thank the teacher and students. Proulx's class joined them for White's talk and slide show.
After presenting flowers to the two teachers, he thanked the students for taking the time to write the soldiers.
"We expect people we know to write, but when it is a stranger - I owe you a round of applause," White said.
Starting with questions, one student quickly asked about the soldier's work schedule during his deployment.
A typical workday was eight to five, but could start earlier or go later, said White. Soldiers filled time off with exercise, cards, video and board games.
Another student, Kenneth Matthews, asked how Florida is different from Iraq.
He said the sun was very hot in Iraq, too. He would wear a hat and cover his exposed hands and ears with sunscreen. He said Iraq gets a snowstorm about once every 20 years, just like Florida. He later showed a picture of the snowstorm in Mosul.
Questions followed, with slides showing everyday life in Iraq, especially in Mosul.
White showed the Humvees he drove. His job varied. Part of a construction unit, he might supervise maintenance workers who fixed the vehicles or take over for his boss when he was on a mission.
"There were a lot of birds. You would think in the desert there wouldn't be birds," White said.
He showed how the terrain of northern Iraq had canyons and was not flat. White pointed to the countries that surround Iraq on a map.
He showed pictures of the hundreds of students who came out to watch the soldiers build a school.
White talked about his purpose in serving his country.
"Helping others makes me feel better. The Army agreed to pay for my college, so I had to give them my time," White said.
He completed four years with ROTC and is now in a master's program at the University of Maine, studying accounting.
White said he felt honored to serve his country. "It makes me feel good to do something to help others," White said, adding, he prefers being a civilian.
White encouraged the students to read, wear sunscreen and exercise. He did several pushups after the slide show.
[Last modified April 3, 2005, 00:09:18]
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