Students’ letters to deployed troops generate lessons, enthusiasm

Story by Grace Todd McKenzie, Jackson Middle School Academic Specialist and David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Photos by Grace Todd McKenzie

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Kentucky National Guard Maj. Jeff Cole takes questions from an enthusiastic crowd at Jackson County Middle School. Cole visited the school to express appreciation for all the cards and letters his troops received during their deployment last year to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. (Photo by Grace Todd McKenzie, Jackson County Middle School Academic Specialist)

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McKEE, Ky. — As any Soldier can tell you, there’s nothing like a little bit of news from home to take the edge off a military deployment.  The sixth grade students of Jackson County Middle School did their part to keep a connection with Kentucky’s Citizen Soldiers in Iraq with a letter writing campaign last year.

The students wrote the letters to the troops of 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry as part of Jean Spurlock’s humanities class.

“I wanted them to open up their feelings,” said Spurlock.  “So we prepared for this by watching videos of surprise homecomings.  The students were so thankful and grateful by what they saw, they poured their hearts into their letters.”

About 160 students took part in the letter writing campaign.  Spurlock warned them that they might not get a response since the Soldiers were in a war zone and might not have time to write back.

“Sometimes you have give without expecting something back,” said Spurlock.    “That’s what charity is all about.”

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Kentucky National Guard Maj. Jeff Cole rigs up a Jackson County Middle School student Mackenzie Isaacs in his “battle rattle.” Cole visited the school to express appreciation for all the cards and letters his troops received during their deployment last year to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. (Photo by Grace Todd McKenzie, Jackson County Middle School Academic Specialist)

To the students’ surprise, though, their letters generated an unexpected amount of return mail.  Spurlock was delighted at the result.

“They weren’t expecting responses, but they got them.  I think that’s because they did such a good job of expressing their gratitude.  They were genuine and the Soldiers recognized that.”

Major Maj. Jeffrey Cole, executive officer for the 1-149th, visited the school to thank the students and present them with a framed flag for their contribution to the troops.

“It was a great encouragement to the Soldiers to receive the letters from the class and to know that people back home are thinking of us,” said Cole.  “I usually visit the school during Veteran’s Day, but we were deployed last November.  So, it was especially meaningful to be able to visit this year following the deployment and express our appreciation.”

Cole was impressed by the enthusiasm that greeted him during his visit.

“The students were very interested in hearing all about what we did during the deployment and other aspects of being a Soldier,” he said.  “Anytime we as Soldiers and leaders can be a positive influence on young people, then it’s well worth the time and effort.”

During the school assembly Cole asked students questions like, “What do you need to work on if you want to be a soldier?”  Hands flew up and answers such as “exercise,” “discipline” and “responsibility” rang out.

After discussing responsibility of a soldier and citizen, Cole asked for a volunteer and choose student Mackenzie Isaacs to model his combat gear.  Isaacs quickly got into the spirit of the exercise and did jumping jacks in the “battle rattle.”

“The students were grateful when Jeff came in and visited,” said Spurlock.  “They were so excited just to shake hands with him, he was a celebrity to them.”

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