167th Airmen answer questions from fifth-graders
By By Staff Sgt. Sherree Grebenstein, 167AW/PA
/ Published April 19, 2012
MARTINSBURG, W.Va -- It was a challenge readily embraced by a group of enthusiastic fifth-graders in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
Their mission? Correspond with troops deployed overseas.
Speaking at a Veterans Day event last November at the American Legion in Berkeley Springs, Capt. Carmela Emerson posed the challenge to those attending the annual event.
"I challenged the veterans, families and audience to write to those troops who were unable to come home for the holidays," said Emerson, a nurse assigned to the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg.
"I had purchased supplies for the folks to write (the troops), ensuring them the letters would be delivered," the Airman said.
Emerson's challenge apparently struck a nerve close to home.
"My granddaughter, Kelis, was inspired by this and suggested we ask her teacher if the children in her class could also write letters," Emerson said.
Kelis's fifth-grade teacher, Natalie Smith, at Warm Springs Intermediate School in Berkeley Springs, used the challenge as a class project.
"She was more than willing to allow her class to write letters to those who were not going to be home with their families for the holidays," Emerson said.
Emerson was invited to give an interactive presentation of her mission as a flight nurse to her granddaughter's classmates. After the presentation, she and Kelis passed out the stationary.
The students quickly put pen to paper.
"By this time the children were intrigued with the Joint Forces," Emerson said. "They had several questions about the food, living arrangements, traveling of the forces, etc.
"In their writings (to the troops) they were inquisitive about their jobs, which branch they were in and how their families felt about them not being home for the holidays," the Airman said.
After collecting the pile of letters, Emerson sent them to Tech Sgt. Timothy Hageny, an Airman assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing's Logistics Readiness Squadron, who was serving a six-month tour in Afghanistan.
"He enthusiastically embraced the idea to distribute the letters to the troops in hopes that the children would get a reply," Emerson said.
"Tech Sgt. Hageny ensured - in the small window of downtime that he had - that each child received a letter from a troop," Emerson noted. "He had written more than one reply because some troops had left the area and were unable to respond."
"When I delivered the letters to Miss Smith's fifth-grade class, the children were ecstatic, almost as though they had seen Santa Claus himself!," the Airman remembered.
Adding: "I wish the troops could have seen their faces. The picture is priceless."
Emerson said that picture would never have been possible without Hageny's helping hand.
"He should be commended for keeping the children and his fellow troops in mind at times when he was so busy keeping up with his wartime missions and his own family," Emerson said. "His teamwork and professionalism should be recognized."
Emerson also wanted to thank other deployed Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing - Master Sgt. Jody Miller and Tech Sgt. Alan Cavanagh - who volunteered to assist Hageny with writing back to the children.
"Mission Accomplished!" Emerson said of the Airmen's teamwork in responding to the students' letters from the home front.
"The kids should also be commended for keeping the troops close to their hearts," she added.