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Madrid-Waddington students send letters to soldiers in Afghanistan

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MADRID — Madrid Waddington Central School students in instructor Justin F. Richards’s eighth-grade U.S. history classes recently sent letters and care packages to soldiers serving alongside U.S. Army Master Sergeant Scott Richards in Afghanistan.

This is Master Sgt. Richards’s third tour of duty. He previously served one tour in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, Mr. Richards said. Master Sgt. Richards is a 1992 Madrid-Waddington graduate and Mr. Richards’s uncle.

Mr. Richards said he got the idea after corresponding with his uncle on Facebook.

The soldiers, who are serving in Kabul, were more than willing to share stories of their day-to-day lives with the students.

“The students’ general response when I have letters to hand them out is like that smile you get at Christmas,” Mr. Richards said. “They love getting that response. Even though they have never seen or met these people they still have that reaction of, ‘Wow, I got a letter.’ At that age they don’t get mail.”

Student sent the letters to the soldiers in November. All the students who sent letters received responses by January.

Lindsey L. Baker, 14, said she was very surprised to receive a letter back and has already sent a second.

“I asked her (the soldier) if it was scary being in the Army because you don’t know what is going to happen, and she said no it isn’t,” Lindsey said. “She said it might be a little scary, but you’re doing it for your country.”

Daniel J. Dominy said he and his soldier pen pal talked about what they like to do.

“I said what I like to do is fishing, and she likes to play rugby do cross fit and work out,” Daniel said. “I thought it was really cool that they took time — with everything they have to do — to write back.”

“They do lots of stuff we do,” Briana G. Hammond, 13, said. “They like to play sports, but they don’t really get to play them a lot. I think they appreciated talking to someone that wanted to learn more about them and that they got to tell some information about themselves.”

To prepare the children for the project, Mr. Richards taught some geography to the class so they would be familiar with Afghanistan. He plans to incorporate the project into a lesson in the spring.

“I enjoyed learning about how hard it is there and to learn from people who are actually in war instead of what is in the news,” Cameryn R. Paige, 13, said. “It was great to hear their point of view.”

The 39 students in both eighth-grade classes also sent three care packages weighing over 60 pounds to the soldiers.

The items donated ranged from beef jerky and candy to books and magazines.

Kerry L. Mayette, 14, said her favorite part of the project was sending the care packages.

“I think the soldiers really enjoyed it,” she said. “I feel like they must get lonely. I asked what it was like being so far away from your family for such a long time. He said it was hard not to see them a lot. The packages give them something to do there.”

As a thankful gesture, the soldiers sent a plaque featuring a certificate of appreciation, a book about Afghanistan and a map of facts and things about Afghanistan.

All around, Mr. Richards said, the project was a “win-win” for the students and the soldiers.

“I know it boosted the soldiers’ morale,” Mr. Richards said. “All the soldiers loved hearing from and interacting with the kids.”

The experience also struck a chord with Mr. Richards personally.

“It’s a really neat experience to say you have somebody that is witnessing or experiencing this who you are really close to, and to be able to share that,” Mr. Richards said. “I am very close to my uncle. It’s nice to let the kids know what he is experiencing outside this little community that we live in. It hits home with them that people up here actually can be affected by Army life. They typically don’t think about that stuff.”

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