TUSCOLA – Some fifth-graders at East Prairie Middle School in Tuscola received a special gift this Christmas season: a U.S. flag that flew over a military base in Afghanistan.
Prairie Middle School teacher Carmen Morgan said that her fifth-grade class has been corresponding with servicemen and women overseas this school year.
"It's one way to show our support for soldiers overseas, but it's also a great educational tool," Morgan said. "They write e-mails to the soldiers, and we look at the map to find the various locations the soldiers are stationed."
Morgan said she used to use Web sites like adoptaussoldier.org to identify soldiers for the students to work with, but she found that many of those soldiers had very limited time to send messages back to the boys and girls.
"One year a friend of mine from Atlanta, Ga., had a son deployed overseas, and it was much easier for the students to send messages back and forth to him," Morgan said. "Since then I have begun contacting people that I know from around here in Douglas County who have been deployed."
Not only do the students send letters and e-mails to the soldiers, but they also send them packages and draw pictures for them.
"One week we baked over 500 cookies," Morgan said. "During Thanksgiving week we sent out 16 packages for Christmas, including one package to the wife of a soldier."
The fifth-grade class became particularly close to Sgt. First Class Ernest E. Miller, a senior human resources sergeant stationed at a base in Salerno, Afghanistan.
Miller, whose mother-in-law lives in Newman, frequently writes to the children about life overseas, and he answers the children's questions.
For example, one student wanted to know about camel spiders, which are common in Afghanistan.
"I had one the size of a fist climb on my leg the other day," Miller e-mailed back. "We also have wild dingos, camels, vipers, cobras and big iguana lizards."
Another student wanted to know about the homes in which the local residents live.
"The people in the area are very poor and cannot afford much, so the housing is very run down," Miller said.
The students were particularly interested in Miller's adventures flying Black Hawk helicopters.
"I get to fly in Black Hawk helicopters all the time," he wrote. "They are fun as long as we do not get shot at."
Meanwhile, here at home, the fifth-graders have dedicated a bulletin board dedicated to their adopted soldiers.
Miller said he was particularly impressed with the cards and letters that came with his Christmas packages, which included an X-Box system.
"The cookies were awesome, and we set up the Xbox in the office for everyone to play," he wrote. "The men and women take turns using it."
Last week the class received a package from Miller including the flag that flew over his base.
Morgan said her students were thrilled to receive it.
"I can't even begin to tell you how happy the students were knowing he had a flag flown for us," she said. "This experience gives the students a sense of feeling what it is like to have somebody gone overseas serving our country."