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Patriotic Article

By Sr. Airman Spencer Gallien

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Deployed Airmen Support Local School Pen-Pal Program
(April 16, 2010)

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Senior Airman Kevin Butler reads a pen-pal letter from Spring Creek School, S.D., March 26, 2010, at an air base in Southwest Asia. Airman Butler is a 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft hydraulics technician.
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kasey Zickmund
  SOUTHWEST ASIA (4/12/2010 - AFNS) -- A group of Airmen deployed here correspond with kindergarteners through eighth-graders at the Spring Creek Rural School, S.D., through a pen-pal program.

The program, between 28th Bomb Wing Airmen deployed here from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and Jeanette Meade and her students has its roots cemented with a flag pole.

Honor guard members from Ellsworth AFB went to the one-room schoolhouse Sept. 8, 2009, to raise the flag for the first time on the school's brand new flag pole.

During the honor guard trip, one Airman noticed a large, outdated world map. Interested in raising funds to replace the map, the Airman began a correspondence with Ms. Nette. Through this a relationship began between Airmen and the students of
Ms. Nette's small, rural school.
Seven months later, the relationship transformed into a pen-pal program spearheaded by members of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and the 11 students who attend Spring Creek.

Using e-mail, letters and packages, the Airmen and students are in contact monthly, weekly, and for some, even daily.

"I usually get a letter out about once a week, but I try to e-mail more often. Sometimes I'll get one out daily," said Airman 1st Class Candice Thomas, a 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron electrical-environmental journeyman. "We talk about everything from her asking me personal questions like if I miss my family, to talking about different assignments and projects she has going on at school."

Chief Master Sgt. Terry Neuharth, the 34th AMU superintendent, brought the pen-pal project to life, Ms. Nette said.

"We had a start to our pen-pal project, but it was sort of in limbo until Terry came along," she said. "He has given my kids a chance to experience letter writing, penmanship, conversational skills and spelling."

Chief Neuharth, a South Dakota native, jumped head-first into the program, helping distribute the letters and gifts from the school children to the deployed Airmen, urging the Airmen to stay in touch and keeping the program alive.

"There are 11 students in this one-room schoolhouse, but their patriotism is not small in the least. It's nothing short of impressive," Chief Neuharth said. "I really look forward to continuing our partnership with the schoolhouse. I'm interested in seeing where these wonderful kids find themselves in the years to come."

The children spend the morning and early afternoon hours each school-day learning mathematics, geography, history and the other lessons that go into an early education. However, when 2 p.m. rolls around, the student's race to the mailbox in anticipation of letters and packages that may await them.

Children have a sense for when someone is "real" or not, Ms. Nette said. Chief Neuharth and his Airmen treat the children with respect, dignity and honor, and they appreciate that.

"We talk about our letters, have pictures posted all over our walls and work hard to make sure our letters are meaningful," she added. "I don't know how to tell you what their efforts have meant to us. We really feel what they are giving to us and to our country."

Recently, Ms. Nette and her students decided to plant a tree on Arbor Day in honor of each of the deployed Airmen who has bonded with the students.
Through daily lessons, the pictures of the Airmen scattered throughout the classrooms and the trees that will soon line their playground, the Airmen's effect on the students can be seen throughout the small grounds.

Even though the students will be on summer break when their deployed pen-pals return to South Dakota, the Airmen said they look forward to the next time they get to meet with their pen pals face-to-face.

"Even after school is out, I intend to continue writing," Airman Thomas said. "After we return, I look forward to seeing how our partnership will grow, and where we will go from there."
By Sr. Airman Spencer Gallien
379th Air Expeditionary Wing
Copyright 2010

Reprinted from Air Force News Service

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