Gift of the heart exchanged between students, Wounded Warriors

Staff report

Photos by Sharron Hilbrecht

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Cody Stagner, Linda Brashears and Gracie Estes discuss the art of making Valentine's Day cards. Stagner and Brashears visited Holy Trinity Parish School to tell the story of Kentucky's Wounded Warriors. (Photo by Sharron Hilbrecht)

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LOUISVILLE, Ky.  – A recent meeting between students at Holy Trinity Parish School and some of Kentucky’s Wounded Warriors resulted in an unexpected gift of the heart.

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Cody Stagner survived the blast by an vehicle borne improvised explosive device in this humvee during his tour of duty in Iraq during 2005. (File photo)

It all began a week ago when Linda Brashears and Cody Stagner were invited to give a presentation to a group of fourth grade students.  Brashears and Stagner are both veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Brashears a former Army Reservist and Stagner a member of the Kentucky Army National Guard.

They are also Wounded Warriors.

Stagner is now a medical outreach coordinator for the Kentucky National Guard.  Brashears is the military liaison for the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky.  The pair were invited to share their stories with the children at Holy Trinity, where they showed photographs and answered questions to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.

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Linda Brashears looks on while Carter Casaburo and Allie DeWeese work on Valentine's Day cards for a Wounded Warrior. (Photo by Sharron Hilbrecht)

“We put the kids in our shoes for the day and told stories about the real life pictures we showed them,” said Stagner.  “We shared some of the values we have as Service Members and what obstacles and conditions our Wounded Warriors may have overcome to survive their wars and real-life battles they may have while returning to the states and to their families.

Student Will Masterson said “It was most interesting to learn about the different lives of children in Iraq when compared to children in the United States.”

Ally DeWeese was a bit more practical in her interests.  “I liked learning about what Soldiers ate,” she said.

She also asked if nail polish was allowed in the military and if the troops were allowed to go shopping.  Her enthusiasm was typical and Stagner and Brashears did their best to address each and every question to its fullest.

Masterson noted that “the armor and protection they wear is very heavy.”

“In the end, I was proudest to see so many of them go out of their way to show gratitude by reaching to shake our hands and saying, ‘Thank you for your service’,” said Stagner.

The exchange was not entirely one sided.  Brashears and Stagner returned a few days later to pick up a special gift:  Valentine’s Day cards the students made especially for the Wounded Warriors.

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The fourth grade class at Trinity School Parish work on Valentine's Day cards for Kentucky's Wounded Warriors. (Photo by Sharron Hilbrecht)

The idea for the cards came up when the class asked about how they could show their respect.  The students discussed sending Valentine’s cards to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Knox, and they created their own designs.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Making Valentine cards for the Soldiers evoked some interesting responses.

“We should learn to participate in activities that support our Wounded Warriors and to respect them,” said Gracie Estes said.  “It was nice to do something for them.”

“What a wonderful way to say thank you to our soldiers,” said fourth grade teacher Michelle Hartlage.

Hartlage, by the way, has a brother who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan.  It turned out that most of the children either had a relative or knew someone who had served in the military.

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Spc. Gregory McDonald, 1st Lt. Adam Fleming and Sgt. Andrew Harris show off messages of affection from the students of Holy Trinity Parish School. The three are members of Bravo Company, Fort Knox Warrior Transition Battalion. (Courtesy photo)

“This was a big hit for us,” said Nancy Meiers, a parent volunteer at the school.  “Since that day I’ve have parents came up and tell me that their children couldn’t stop talking about it.”

Meiers said the children’s interest was deeper than anyone expected.  “They were fascinated by the Soldiers’ experiences, their impression of their living conditions in the desert, how they lived and what they ate.  You could see it in the kids’ eyes.  They see story on the news all the time, but this put a face to it and made their story a lot more personal.”

“One thing that resonated with the children is that there are many wounds that are not visible,” said Meiers.  “That was a good message for their kids, and for adults.”

“I found it most interesting how the children themselves had different views of the military,” said Stagner.  “Some saw it as glamorous and some found it dangerous.  But I think all of them learned something they didn’t know.”

Stagner’s current mission is to widen the awareness of today’s Wounded Warrior and he saw the visit to Holy Trinity as step in the right direction.

“Hopefully, when these bright kids run into one of our Wounded Warriors or any other service member, they will know not to be afraid of him or her and have the confidence enough to address them and maybe lend a helping hand.”

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