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US Army soldier visits Piedmont Middle School

With the help of 12-year-old Piedmont Middle School student Cassidy Slabaugh, US Army Maj. Jason Hayes demonstrates how much weight soldiers carry in Iraq.

Students at Piedmont Middle School got a personal “thank you” from a US Army soldier who served in Iraq, one of more than 30 soldiers to get Christmas presents from students in Operation Building Hope.

US Army Major Jason Hayes wanted to make sure students realized how important their letters and care packages had been to the American soldiers in Iraq. “Being away from home is very difficult, especially if you’re uncertain if the people at home support you. It’s also important to know your families are safe. Your letters and packages let us know that.”

Some of the items sent in Operation Building Hope were toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, soap, disposable razors, shaving cream, magazines, books, crossword puzzles, protein bars, beef jerky, instant coffee, board games, cards, DVDs and powdered drink mixes.

“We had five boxes dropped off on a Monday, which we thought was great,” Hayes said. “The following day, I came back and there were 30 boxes stacked in my office. So I sorted them all out and took some pictures, which we sent to you. I want to personally say thank you.”

When asked what he missed most while in Iraq, Hayes said his wife, Beth, and his 3½-year-old daughter Finley, who came to the middle school with Hayes; as did Beth’s mother, Shelby Kiser of Charlotte. “Our separation from our families is the hardest thing for soldiers,” he said. “My daughter turned 3 while I was gone and I didn’t get to see that birthday. I missed two Christmases, two Thanksgivings and our 13th wedding anniversary.”

As for how his life has been affected by the military, Hayes said it has changed his point-of-view about the world. “There are tons of people that I never would have met were it not for the military,” he said.

“I have friends from all over the world. One of the guys on my crew is from British Guyana. By being in the military and having those experiences, going on operations and then working with different people, it’s changed who I am and how I view the world. I just don’t look at things from how I grew up, I look at things from other people’s point-of-view.”

Hayes said one of the things he is most proud of is that because of the US soldiers’ efforts, two-thirds (about 150) schools were able to reopen in Abu Ghraib in the Baghdad Province where he was stationed, a result of the safety brought on by the American soldiers.

On a typical day, Hayes said soldiers work 12 hours a day, eight hours patrolling and four hours maintaining their equipment and vehicles.

The gear that the soldiers wear weighs between 45 to 60 pounds. Hayes used middle school volunteer Cassidy Slabaugh, 12, to demonstrate how much weight this is for soldiers. “They climb up hills, run up stairs, chase bad guys, climb over walls with this much weight on our backs,” he said.

“But all that stuff is really important, because that’s what helps us stay alive. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen soldiers come back in and had a bullet shot at them, but landed in their (protective) plates. Other than knocking them on the ground and bruises, they were fine.”

Hayes told students their support of American soldiers is important and asked that they continue their letters.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, Publications Coordinator
Posted: Mar 03, 2008 by Jon Van de Riet

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