Two years ago, students at Greenbriar West Elementary did "Treats for Troops," with children bringing in snack items to send to U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq. This time, they did something more personal — they sent letters.
"I think it's really good because it's something from the heart," said GBW sixth-grader Jennifer Levin, 11 1/2. "Someone writing to them is better than just sending a thing. Some people also wrote jokes and drew mazes to entertain them."
It was an SCA project open to all students, on a voluntary basis. And, said Daniela Medina, 12, "SCA sponsor Linda Rashidi thought it would be neat to write letters and try something different." The school then sent the letters to Friends of Our Troops, which distributes mail to U.S. military personnel around the world.
In his letter, said Nabil Mezher, 11, "I said I was happy for them to protect us and proud of them for being in the military. I told them their children and everyone must be very proud of them, too, and I said they're doing a good deed." Nabil also told his age and his favorite things to do — study about the Medieval period and do fencing. "I also said Greenbriar West's a good school," he added.
"I said I hope they come back safely to their friends and family and that they shouldn't be afraid because everyone here is counting on them," said Areeg Elayan, also 11 and in sixth-grade. "I wrote that we send our blessings, along with our hopes and dreams."
Jennifer said the students didn't know where the troops were or who they were writing to, so it was a bit difficult writing to strangers. "So you couldn't say things like you'd tell your best friend you've known for years," she explained. "I told my school and grade and that my favorite hobby is dancing. I said we were very proud of them and I thanked them for doing this for us."
Rashidi said the students wrote to the soldiers, the first two weeks of January, so the letters would be sent in the company's Valentine package to the troops. "They send letters at Christmas, Valentine's Day and in the summer," she said.
"I wrote that the job [the soldiers] do is extremely impressive and that they're like a parent to the whole United States, 'cause they protect us," said Daniela. "I said that someday I'll be a parent, too, and try to do a good job like them."
She also gave them some advice in case they get nervous. "When I had a stomach ache and hurt really bad, I closed my eyes," she said. "So I told them to do that and think of the pain as a color — and that color going out of their body."
SCA president Chris Buck, 12, said some students sent puzzles and everyone drew pictures. "I drew the American flag as realistically as I could, with 13 stripes and 50 stars," he said. "I told them how me and my friends are grateful for what they're doing and how I hope this [war] ends soon."
He also told them his name, grade and school and that he likes designing video games. Added Chris: "I also wrote that I have a friend whose dad is in the military reserves and was going to get training in Arizona and then go to Iraq."
Areeg shared some firsthand knowledge with her penpals. "I said I know how it feels to be in a place that has a war because I come from Palestine, on the bank of Jordan," she said. "I came here when I was 2 and spent first grade there. I still think of it as home because I was born there and my parents are from there."
Regarding the letter-writing project, she said, "I felt it was kind of encouraging for [the soldiers]. They'll know people want them to stay and they're appreciated."
"I thought it was a great thing because soldiers could receive letters from people who care," added Chris. "And it could be something for them to read, and maybe they'd get a laugh out of the jokes." Some of the students also wrote to the military grandson of GBW instructional assistant Agnes Gordon.
Nabil said it was also good to let soldiers who were fighting know that "they're doing the right thing" and, hopefully, it would boost their morale. Still, he said, "It's pretty hard to write to someone you've never met, so I got tips from my friends."
Areeg wrote that she was "full of pride, knowing that I'm an American and that there are people brave enough to go out there and fight for us so we don't have to." Jennifer said it would be nice to write letters to soldiers again, and Chris said he might do it in middle school. "I'd do it on my own," said Nabil.
"Sometimes, you think, 'How can one person help something?'" said Chris. "But this program shows that you can and that you can make another person happy if you make that extra effort."
Jennifer said the troops "need to know they're there for a reason and that people appreciate what they do." Because of them, she said, "Everyone else can enjoy America as a free country." Added Daniela: "And even if they don't write back, at least they know everyone's thinking of them."