Shelbyville school adopts Kentucky Air Guardsman during Afghanistan deployment

Story by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Fourth-grade students from Clear Creek Elementary School in Shelbyville, Ky., sent this photo of themselves in front of their school flag pole to Staff Sgt. Krome Raymond, a Kentucky Air National Guardsman from the Louisville-based 123rd Airlift Wing who is currently deployed to Afghanistan. The children and their teacher, Stephanie Herndon (back row, left), “adopted” Raymond, who sent them an American flag that they hoisted above the building. A traditional Air Guard member, Raymond is a full-time employee of the Shelby County School District, along with his wife, Dawn (back row, right). (Courtesy Photo)

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — Smiles, laughter and excitement filled Stephanie Herndon’s fourth-grade classroom as her students took out pencils to write another batch of letters to their “adopted” Airman, Staff Sgt. Krome Raymond, a Kentucky Air National Guardsman who is deployed to Afghanistan.

Raymond holds a special place with the students from Clear Creek Elementary School. When he’s not deployed or serving as a traditional “part-time” Air Guardsman at the Louisville-based 123rd Airlift Wing, Raymond works full-time in the Shelby County school district’s maintenance division, and his wife, Dawn, is the school’s secretary.

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Austin Gozalez, a fourth-grade student at Clear Creek Elementary School in Shelbyville, Ky., writes a letter to Staff Sgt. Krome Raymond, a Kentucky Air National Guardsman who is deployed to Afghanistan, as Raymond’s supervisor, Lt. Col. Armand Bolotte, looks on during a classroom visit Jan. 9, 2014. Gonzalez and his classmates have “adopted” members of the Louisville-based 123rd Airlift Wing for the duration of their deployments, sending them letters and snacks. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

“Our students know him and his wife very well,” Herndon said. “For us to adopt and support him was just an extension of the family that we have here already. It is also a great way for our students to see that the world is larger than their own community. It gives them the chance to broaden their scope of knowledge.”

In addition to the letters, the students have sent care packages of cookies and special treats. The cards and pictures they included line the walls in Raymond’s living quarters. The fourth-graders also sent him a classroom t-shirt bearing the school logo.

“It was awesome to see him wearing our shirt and showing us around his room in Afghanistan with all of our stuff on the walls,” said Joshua Sponel, 9, recalling one of the two times Raymond was able to Skype with the class. “He got all teary and started to cry when he saw us, but it was still really cool!”

In exchange, Raymond has sent the students many letters, pictures and an American flag.

“We flew his flag over our school during our Veteran’s Day show,” said Madalyn Kampschafer, 10. “It was really great to pull it up the flag pole for everyone to see when they came in the building.”

Currently, the flag is making its way through the district to each school building, where it will fly in honor of Raymond and the 12 other deployed members of his unit, the 123rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, where Raymond serves as an assistant ramp services supervisor.

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Chief Master Sgt. Ray Dawson, command chief of the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing in Louisville, Ky., talks with fourth-grade students at Clear Creek Elementary School in Shelbyville, Ky., Jan. 9, 2014, during a visit to thank them for their support of the wing’s deployed Airmen. The students “adopted” unit members who are currently serving in Afghanistan, sending them letters and snacks. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

“Everyone in the school district has been amazing and very supportive,” said Dawn Raymond, wiping tears from her eyes. “It is very difficult to be away from someone you love. Having this kind of support every day makes the time spent apart much easier. All of the staff members here and all of the students have reached out to us in so many ways; it’s just truly wonderful.”

The importance of community and family support is a sentiment shared by Lt. Col. Jeffrey Wilkinson, 123rd Airlift Wing vice commander, who visited Raymond’s adopted classroom along with other members of the wing to offer his appreciation.

“I want to thank all of you for your special letters, cards and packages sent to our Airmen, and especially to Staff Sgt. Raymond,” Wilkinson said to the students. “It is so important for our Airmen to be able to connect to a little piece of home and know the job they are performing is appreciated by many who care for them.”

Sponel summed up his support by explaining that he’s writing to the Airman “because he’s in the military fighting for our freedom and he needs our help.”

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