When Frank Valentin, a member of the United States Army’s 595th Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, began to talk about how he became ill after serving in Iraq for two years, he focused not on his illness, but instead on his fellow soldiers.
"When I am ill they are there," he said. "When you are in a situation where you feel you are alone, they are there."
Valentin, 35, who is originally from Puerto Rico, began to tear up as he spoke to Cub Scout Pack 282 of South Riding Friday evening. He and three other soldiers being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center came to speak to the Scouts during their Dec. 15 meeting.
THE FOUR SOLDIERS, each wounded while serving in Iraq, spoke to the Scouts at Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church in Chantilly.
Boston-native Uzi Estrada served with the 101st Airborne Division and was shot in the arm while serving in Tikrit, Iraq. Greg Williams, originally from Puerto Rico, was serving in the 10th Mountain Division before being wounded in the leg and returning to the U.S. Lito Santo-Dilone, who is from the Dominican Republic, served with the 3rd Infantry Division before losing his left leg to a roadside bomb.
While all four men were shy when talking about their personal stories as soldiers, each spoke clearly when thanking the Scouts for their support.
"We are really grateful for the letters, from kids especially," Estrada, 20, said. "Not a lot of people get letters, so when they do they really bring a smile to [their faces.]"
JEFF POWELL, den leader for the pack’s Tiger Cubs, said he wanted to bring the soldiers to speak to the Scouts because he believed they represent what being a Cub Scout is all about.
"We wanted to have them here so the Scouts can understand what we talk about when we talk about being Scouts," he said.
The evening was arranged through local grassroots organization, Operation Pinecone, which sends care packages year round to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Powell, who is active member of the U.S. Air Force, saw one of the organization’s collection boxes at his church at Hutchison Farm Elementary School in South Riding. He thought that having the Scouts help create care packages for soldiers would be a good part of the pack’s community service efforts.
"I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring the two [groups] together for mutual support," he said.
At the Friday night meeting, the Cub Scouts made cards and posters to be included with care packages sent to soldiers overseas. They also put together bags of candy to give the soldiers as a treat from home, calling their effort Operation Pine Bough, a supporter of Operation Pinecone. Valentin, William, Estrada and Santo-Dilone visited with the Scouts, helping them create cards and answering their questions.
IN ADDITION to the soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Staff Sgt. John Maynard from the Winchester National Guard spoke to the Scouts about what it was like to serve in Afghanistan, where he was deployed. Maynard brought an ambulance with him to the meeting and told the boys that it played an important role in the war.
"This ambulance went to Afghanistan and it carried troops," he said. "And on the way back [to camp] it carried care packages. We had this vehicle stuffed with care packages."
Maynard told the Scouts that the packages they help put together mean a lot to the soldiers, especially those who do not have access to the basic luxuries. He said it is also important for people to send specialty items, such as chocolate or toys.
"If [the soldiers] have a little bit that is special, they’ll give it to the kids over there," Maynard said. "They give it to kids around your age."