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US servicemen receive ongoing support from UCPS students

First Sergeant Phillip W. Pressley surprised his daughter, New Salem Elementary second grader Madeleine Pressley, when he popped into her classroom while home on leave from Iraq. The school had adopted Pressley’s battalion (Bravo Battery First Battalion 113th Field Artillery) in Iraq, sending care packages throughout the year.

The holidays are possibly the toughest time of year for a US serviceman to be away from home; not only for the men and women in uniform, but for their families as well.
   
Thanks to the thousands of hand-written messages of love and support and hundreds of care packages sent by Union County Public School students, US military stationed abroad may find being away from home just a little easier.
   
Many UCPS classrooms have adopted servicemen fighting overseas, often choosing a relative of a student or faculty member. To show their appreciation, a few soldiers, upon their return home, visited UCPS students to offer their personal thanks, even if their trips home are just short visits.
   
Following are but a few of the many servicemen and women being contacted and supported by UCPS students and educators. It may seem like a simple gesture for a student to sit down and write a letter or send a care package to a Marine, sailor, airman, guardsman or soldier fighting overseas, but it’s that little taste of home that for many help them remember what they’re fighting for. (For more photos, click here)

New Salem Elementary
   
First Sergeant Phillip Pressley of 113th Bravo Battery in Iraq surprised his young daughter recently, New Salem Elementary second-grader Madeleine Pressley, by dropping in on her class on his way home while on leave from Iraq.
   
Madeleine, unaware that her father would be waiting on her in her classroom, was returning with her class from the media center. “She was in total shock,” said New Salem Elementary principal Neil Hawkins. “She kept looking at her dad, who was sitting at her desk. The look on her face was disbelief, like she was thinking, ‘That can't be you. You can't be here’!"
   
There wasn’t a dry eye in the classroom when Madeleine ran and jumped into her father’s arms, wrapping her arms around his neck like she would never let go. When he left about 30 minutes later, it was no surprise that Madeleine left with him.
   
The school had adopted Pressley’s battalion, sending care packages throughout the year filled with messages of love and support and non-perishables that the servicemen could use.
   
Pressley is also honored at the school by being featured on one of its bulletin boards. He returned to the school two weeks after his visit to Madeleine to thank all the students for their cards and gifts. He is now continuing his tour of duty in Iraq.
   
Pressley is just one of the many servicemen that is being honored by Union County Public Schools students.

Antioch Elementary
   
Heather Ries, a fifth-grade teacher at Antioch Elementary School, was very excited to not only get an email from their adopted United States Army soldier, Tony Deese, but a photo of him with fellow soldiers serving in Iraq.
   
Students are thrilled when these individuals take time to write or email them back. How much the Armed Forces appreciate the time and energy spent by students is evident from their letters and emails.

Fairview Elementary
   
“I have read every letter that was written by every student,” said SPC. Brett McLamb of B Battery in an email he sent to Fairview Elementary principal Kelly Thomas. “They mean more than words can describe. It really touches my heart to know that I have the support of a school behind me, a school that has no idea who I am. Being that I have a 2-year old son myself, these letters are really special and will be close to me the rest of my life.”
   
McLamb promised to write each and every student who had written him and to do his best to visit the school upon his return home.

Hemby Bridge Elementary
   
It is especially memorable when a visiting serviceman is a recent graduate from the Union County Public Schools. Private first-class Luis G. Colon of the 82nd Airborne graduated from Porter Ridge High School this past June. He was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq at the end of December 2009. Colon visited Grace Stanley’s second-grade class at Hemby Bridge Elementary and spoke with students about the Army, answering their questions about his life.
   
Stanley thinks it’s important to honor members of the Armed Forces year-round, not just during the holidays, stating that these individuals put their lives on the line every day. “In this country, we are free to believe what we want to believe,” she said. “For these reasons and many more the soldiers are making the ultimate sacrifice for us. The least we can do is support them, not only at Christmas, but throughout the year, when their children, wives and husbands, mothers and fathers are without their loved ones who are fighting for you and me. This is what being an American is all about.”

Indian Trail Elementary
    
Indian Trail Elementary, like many other schools, has made a weekly effort all yearlong to honor their adopted soldier. Students have been sending care packages every month and letters each week to SPC. Joshua Eubanks. Each week, a different class has written letters and sent pictures.
   
Eubanks visited each class when he was home on leave in November. “He spoke with every single class in the building,” said Indian Trail assistant principal Kim Harris. “Joshua was very appreciative of the letters, pictures, and boxes that were sent to him. He spoke about sharing things like pencils with the children of Iraq. He said that a pencil to an Iraqi child was like a video game to one of us. They were so excited to have anything because they had nothing.” 

Porter Ridge Elementary
   
Some servicemen sent pictures of themselves from Iraq to give students a chance to see a little of their world. Army SPC. Christopher Reed sent a photo of himself with a group of Iraqi students similar in age to those he was writing to at Porter Ridge Elementary.
   
In his email he wrote, “Thank you for all the letters and the package. It’s hard to be away from friends and family, but Iraq really isn't all that bad. I would love to come visit with your class. I think I have two or three months left over here, so it won’t be too long ‘till I come back. Well better go get some work done. Hope to hear from you all soon.”
   
Porter Ridge Elementary’s AIG fourth and fifth graders wrote Reed and sent him care packages that included pictures of the students, snacks, candy, playing cards, toothbrushes, and personal notes from students. AIG teacher Cynthia Chandler said one student’s personal note even included a Bible. 
   
The school’s third graders, under the direction of Porter Ridge teacher Kate Lokash, got in on the action as well by sending holiday greeting cards to about 30 different American soldiers.

Wesley Chapel Elementary
   
One very lucky group of students in Brenda Knight and Cindy Herron’s classes at Wesley Chapel Elementary School, were able to speak live to their adopted serviceman in Iraq, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Rich Seeley, via Skype. Seeley’s stepchildren, Katey Watkins, a first-grader, and her brother, Derek Watkins, a fourth grader, were thrilled to be included in the conversation with their step dad. (Seeley’s family members were also on hand.)
   
“The Skype went very well,” Knight said. “The kids were very excited and interested. The questions were very good from both grades, but the fourth graders were a little more thoughtful.”
   
Megan (Seeley’s wife and mother to Katey and Derek) brought in her laptop, and the school’s media specialist, Terry Matheson, helped her hook up to the Internet. “We chatted with Rich live for more than 30 minutes,” Knight said. “The students prepared questions for him and they got real-time answers.”
   
Seeley showed the students his living quarters and talked about his unit. “He showed students weapons, discussed food, showed them clothes, etc.,” Knight said. “He talked about the weather and the surroundings.”
   
The students are scheduled to talk with Seeley again after their care package for him and his men arrive early in 2010. It includes 22 pounds of beef jerky donated by teacher assistant Vicki Little, gum, mints, chips, nuts, candy, taffy and drink mixes, as well as 75 letters written by the students.

Kensington Elementary
   
Not every serviceman being adopted by UCPS students is in Iraq. Leigh Ann Worley’s fifth-grade class at Kensington Elementary has adopted a Marine from Afghanistan, Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Charles Bates. Kensington principal Rachel Clarke was thrilled when Bates called her recently from Afghanistan, thanking her and the students for the letters.
   
Bates replied to 16 of the letters sent to him, answering questions or making comments about remarks they had sent in their letters. In a letter he wrote to Brenna, Bates said, “I just got to thank you for your words of encouragement. I really do appreciate it! It’s amazing to me that even though you’re so young, you can still appreciate the life you live and are thankful for all you have. The kids over here can’t even imagine how good we have it in America.”

Sun Valley Middle
   
Many educators are also utilizing these opportunities to communicate with the servicemen as teaching tools. Sun Valley Middle School Social Studies teacher Christopher White will be writing and video conferencing his brother, the Rev. Captain Charles Walker White IV, a chaplain with the National Guard in SC, who will be heading to Afghanistan in January.
   
His seventh- and eighth-grade students will be collecting items for care packages and writing letters, but White also hopes his students will be able to connect with some Afghani students.
   
“In order to facilitate this, and to put a personal face to the troops, my brother and his son came and spoke to all the seventh-grade students, as well as my eighth-grade students and the cheerleaders,” White said. “They were able to ask questions and get to know him a bit better so they'll know with whom they are writing.”

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Jan 04, 2010 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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