Little Milligan students send encouragement to troops

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khelms@mounet.com

   If your mom or dad were called up to go to war with Iraq, how would you feel when it came time to say good-bye? Little Milligan Elementary School students asked themselves this question during the first days of the United States' war with Iraq.
   Second-grade teacher Catherine Blair said she and her class "talked a lot about what that would feel like, and we talked a little bit about what it would feel like to be a mom or a dad or a brother or a sister, or a wife or an aunt, to go way over there in the desert -- not in the beautiful mountains like we are here -- with all that sand, and to not even be able to take a bath or a shower for awhile."
   Several of the students have relatives now fighting in the war with Iraq. Blair said students thought about how lonely they would feel and decided that perhaps sending letters to the troops would help ease that loneliness.
   "We thought maybe a letter from some child that they didn't even know would cheer them up and make them feel a little better. And maybe if it were a particularly hard time, when they were missing their son or daughter or missing their wife or husband, that they might think, 'Golly, I'm really not over here all by myself,' even though they might feel like that. They would think: 'There are some kids that I don't even know that are thinking about me.'"
   Blair's class of 16 students then learned about writing a letter and composed their messages. "They handed them to me, I corrected them, and they recopied them real pretty and drew a picture to go with each one. And then we made this really beautiful cover.
   "I was real proud of them," she said. "I guess I was so shocked at how long their letters were, and not only the length of their letters, but the feeling that they expressed. I didn't have to send anybody back to redo it or to add something. They came up with these."
   Blake Walsh wrote: "Dear Soldier, Go to war and come back with Saddam Hussein in chains and make him pay not in money. I hope you don't get hurt. And don't let him get away because he is tricky. You should put him in prison. When you get back, we will punish him."
   Summer Bowling told the soldiers she was glad that they wanted "to save our world and help us," but she also expressed fear. "I am afraid if you blow a bomb, it will blow up the world, but you are so brave -- very, very, brave. We love you. We all hope you will be OK and be safe and not get hurt. ... We are glad you are getting him [Hussein] out of the world because he kills people."
   Taylor Harmon said she thought fighting against Hussein's regime "was a great idea from President Bush. ... I'm glad you want to protect our world. If you did not do that, then we die. I do not like Saddam Hussein. He could blow up the whole world. ... God Bless America."
   Natasha Poole, who said she has an uncle in the Navy, wrote: "I love what you are doing for our country." She also expressed fear, not only for herself but for the soldiers. "I am very scared. If Saddam Hussein doesn't get out of Iraq, you will have to start war. I know you are scared, but be proud of yourself."
   Phillip Marvel said he believes the U.S. troops are "very kind" to go to war for America. "Please don't get killed. You are very, very brave."
   Seth White told the soldiers he had heard of their "problem" and encouraged them to keep the faith. "I hope you make it. Don't give up. I have faith in you. I trust in you. At least you are kind," White wrote.
   After the letters were compiled, Blair found that sending them was more difficult than anticipated. For security reasons, the Defense Department is no longer allowing the public to send mail addressed to "any service member."
   Blair said she will take the letters to the National Guard Armory in Elizabethton, home of the 776th Maintenance Battalion, which will then address them to individual service members and forward them on to the troops.