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Soldiers thank young pen pals at school visit

October 01, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Five soldiers traveled first from Iraq, then from their far-flung homes, to thank a group of Andrew Buchanan Elementary School children Thursday for their kindness.

"It meant a lot to me that you guys had no idea who we were and you still took time to write to us," Spc. Amber Baldwin told the group's pen pals.

Baldwin, Sgt. Charles Hanks, Spc. Nicole Clouser, Spc. Whitney Sepeda and Sgt. Ronald Grove visited the children who were in Sue DeVos' third-grade class in 2008-09.

To the students, Grove is better known as "Kayla's dad."

"I like having him here better instead of fighting," 9-year-old Kayla said.

Baldwin, Hanks, Clouser and Sepeda each drove several hours to meet the students. They belong to the 328th Brigade Support Battalion, which cooked and provided supplies for comrades in the Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade.

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More than 4,000 Guard members in the 56th Stryker Brigade deployed to Taji, Iraq, in January and returned to the United States in September.

Devin Webster, 9, said he liked listening to the soldiers' responses to classmates' questions Thursday.

"You got to see who you were writing to," said Chanel Cheeseman, 9.

A lot of the children's notes mentioned favorite movies and sports teams, and they included things like, "My favorite color is blue. What is your favorite color?"

Grove saved his mail and rereads the messages.

"We looked forward to it, and it kept the morale up," he said.

"I think the best part was writing the letters and getting some back," said Kate Meighan, 9.

Devin, Chanel and Kate said they were more familiar with e-mailing and text messaging than traditional letter-writing. The pen pals project gave them an opportunity to practice what their teacher taught about formatting a letter and filling out envelopes -- skills that Devin said he finds boring.

Devin said he often wrote about his family and asked questions about the soldiers' families.

"I wrote about how grateful I am for what we have," Chanel said.

The battalion's personnel took a longer route to the United States and were among the last Stryker Brigade soldiers to return.

"It was very nice to get off the plane and smell grass," Clouser said.

One student asked, "How did it feel to be in Iraq?" and the question prompted Baldwin to recall the strong desires she had to be stateside.

"When I was there, I was on stop-loss. My time in the Army was finished, but they kept me and I couldn't go home," she said.

She later told The Herald-Mail she has re-enlisted to help pay for college.

"It was a long year, and I'm happy to be home," Sepeda said.

The children received patches, certificates and notebooks.

Grove presented the school with a flag flown in a combat helicopter.

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