Seventh and eighth graders went through a series of stations that gave them a peek into the life of soldiers stationed in the Middle East. The first station offered students the chance to try a meal, ready-to-eat (MRE), which is a self-contained, individual field ration that provides about 1,200 calories. Other stations allowed students to see weapons commonly used in combat, living quarters for soldiers when they are overseas and vehicles that have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan. A final station taught students about the amount of physical fitness needed to be a soldier. Several students even had the opportunity to “Army crawl” through a makeshift obstacle course.
Kathy Scarberry, a seventh-grade English teacher at Bankhead, said she organized the event as a way to increase her students awareness of the sacrifices that soldiers make.
“We all need to appreciate what these men and women do for our country,” she said. “This was a way for our students to meet soldiers who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan and hear their stories. It should give each of our students a newfound respect for the soldiers who are fighting for their freedom.”
Sgt. Daniel Minor, a Cordova resident whose daughter attends Bankhead, coordinated the event with Scarberry.
“We have all this equipment that we can use to educate the community, so we brought it out here today to share with the students,” he said. “All the soldiers who came out today volunteered their time, and I think each one is glad they did. We had a great response from the students.”
Seventh grader Michael Scroggins, who is considering joining the military in the future, said Friday’s visit from the soldiers was “awesome.”
“The stuff they get to do — it’s something that I think I’d want to do one day,” he said.
Starting next week, Scarberry said her classes will begin writing letters to soldiers who are currently stationed abroad.
“We have a soldier who is stationed on a ship that has agreed to let us write him,” she said. “He’s talked to all the others on the ship and they are going to become pen pals with our students.”
Scarberry said all letters, those leaving her students and those coming in to her students, will be read by her for safety reasons.
She said the main reason for the letters is to show soldiers that someone back home cares about them and wants to help them.
“We will be asking them for any kind of supplies they need and use their requests to put together care packages,” he said.
Sgt. Howard Lee Miles, one of the 10 soldiers at Bankhead Friday, said receiving a letter from a stranger was a priceless experience during his tours of duty in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s better than getting a letter from a family member or friend, because this is someone who you don’t know that is taking time from their life to write you a letter,” he said. “It really lets you know that there are people out there who care about what you are doing. When we would get letters, it was like the best Christmas presents you could ever imagine.”
Sgt. Michelle Ortiz, an veteran who served in Iraq, said letters from students could “mean the world” to a soldier.
“When I was in Iraq, getting a letter was very special,” she said. “A lot of times we don’t know how much support we have, so to get a letter touches us on a personal letter and it lets us know that people are supporting us.”
As a token of thanks, Bankhead students lined up at the end Friday’s event to shake the hands of the soldiers who visited. Students also presented each soldier with a coin, donated by the VFW Ladies Auxiliary-Post 4850, which had the inscription, “We thank you for your service and pray for your continued safety.”
Bankhead Principal Amber Freeman said the visit from the soldiers was a great thing for her students.
“Our students were able to experience, in a small way, what it is like to be a soldier, and I think it was great,” she said. “I hope it helps our students realize the sacrifices that every man and woman makes when they join the military. I’m so thankful to each of the soldiers who visited today.”