Deployed Airmen Support Local School Pen-Pal Program
(April 16, 2010)
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outdated world map.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
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
Chief Master Sgt. Terry Neuharth, the 34th AMU
superintendent, brought the pen-pal project to life, Ms.
"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
By Sr. Airman Spencer Gallien
379th Air Expeditionary Wing
Air Force News Service
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