Faraway friends

Though they are thousands of miles from home, members of 3rd Special Troop Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Hood currently deployed in Afghanistan still get a touch of Texas thanks to the Highland Lakes Elementary School students and staff. The campus ‘adopted’ Alpha Company last year and sends them letters and care packages. 

GRANITE SHOALS — The students at Highland Lakes Elementary School haven’t forgotten some special friends they adopted last fall, even though those friends are now on the other side of the planet.

The campus adopted Alpha Company of 3rd Special Troop Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Hood as part of a program that allows schools, churches, businesses and communities to reach out and support units. 

Teacher Jamie Sentelle helped spearhead the “adoption” last year and has continued to keep the students and soldiers connected.

“We didn’t want to just start this and then let it go,” she said. “I think it’s important to keep in contact with (Alpha Company) and let them know we care about them. It’s important for the students to know there are people who are willing to go overseas and leave their families behind for our country.”

Each month a grade level is responsible for putting together care packages and sending letters to the soldiers, who are now deployed to a forward operating base in Afghanistan. 

“The kids have been incredible,” Sentelle said. “They really take this serious.”

Last May members of the unit visited the campus and spent the day with the students and staff. Not long after the trip, the soldiers went through some more training before being deployed to Afghanistan.

Principal Keith Powell said the program is something that benefits both the soldiers and the students.

“We wanted to continue this because we knew (the soldiers) were going to be deployed to Afghanistan and even though they are in a dangerous environment they still take time to write the kids,” he said. “I think it really shows the kids how much the soldiers appreciate the letters and care packages we send them. And for the students, I think it really helps them understand that people are leaving their homes to protect this country. It’s not just some names they hear in the news.”

In recent correspondence, the soldiers told the students how the weather was shifting from the heat of summer to the cold of winter. But the letters often take a more personal tone. 

One soldier wrote, “Make sure that you find one thing that you love in your studies and become great at it.”

“Despite where they are and what they’re doing, (the soldiers) take the time to write letters but also make them a little more than ‘thank you’,” Powell said.

The students are in the process of sending Christmas cards and more care packages to the troops. But each care package costs about $11 to send, so teachers, faculty, PTO and parents often reach into their own pockets to cover the shipping fees.

“If people want to help out, we could always use help paying for the shipping costs,” Sentelle said. “And we’re always looking for donations for the packages.”

Some of the items the soldiers need most are basic toiletries such as “soft” toilet paper, tissue and other personal items.

Sentelle said one of the big requests from the soldiers is venison jerky. 

“If somebody has some venison they would be willing to donate, we would be so grateful,” she said.

The effort by the students and other civilians hasn’t been lost on the soldiers.

Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Work, a soldier from the unit HLES adopted, said in an e-mail that the letters and packages they receive from the students are most appreciated.

“Since we have been in Afghanistan the amount of support we have received from adopt-a-platoon and anysoldier.com has been phenomenal,” he wrote. “Since being in country, I have received over 30 boxes from different supporters.”

Sentelle said Work has helped ensure the HLES packages and letters get to the units.

It’s not just the soldiers whom the HLES students are reaching out to. Last year, the campus began “banking” Campbell Soup company labels. Schools can earn points from the company to purchase supplies. But instead of keeping those points for the HLES campus, the students and staff are going to let the soldiers use the labels to buy supplies and equipment for schools in Afghanistan.

“In a way our kids are helping other kids in a way-off land,” Powell said. “(Adopt-a-unit) helps our kids think outside themselves and realize what very dangerous work their fellow citizens have to do for the country. It gives them a sense of helping their fellow Americans — a sense of pitching in.”