Monday, August 9, 2004

War in Iraq made real

Students meet their soldier pen pal

By Maggie Downs
Enquirer staff writer

BETHEL - The sixth-graders at Bethel Tate Middle School studiously watched the TV news about the war in Iraq. They discussed the climate, the terrain, the people. And they lovingly folded away letters, cards and drawings into care packages for a soldier pen pal.

From left, Shelby Church, Lauren Barr, Morgan Gill, Specialist Kristine Timmons, Autumn Schellenberger, Samantha Fields and Lacey Barr. These girls are some of the students that corresponded with Spec. Timmons.
(Enquirer photo/MICHAEL E. KEATING)
More than 6,000 miles away in Baghdad, Spc. Kristine Timmons reread letters from students on lonely nights. She shared cans of Skyline Chili with her fellow soldiers. And along the perimeter of her cot, she propped up the stuffed toys she received as presents to remind her of home.

On Sunday, the students and soldier met face-to-face at a welcome home party at the Bethel Park Shelter House.

The students first connected with Timmons through sixth grade teacher Shari Easterling.

In December 2003, Easterling read an Enquirer story about a soldier from the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment based in Fort Polk, La., who surprised her father by coming home for the holidays.

The soldier was Timmons. Easterling recognized her immediately as one of her former students.

"I never would have pictured her going to war. She was so quiet, and I remember she always had her hair fixed up in bows," Easterling said.

Easterling contacted Timmons' family - her mother and sister live in Amelia and her father and stepmother live in Walton - to set up correspondence with the soldier.

Starting in January 2004 until the end of the school year, students took turns writing daily letters or cards. They also mailed about 15 care packages.

"It was a big morale booster to have the letters constantly coming," Timmons said.

In return, the students received e-mail messages and digital photos as often as Timmons could send them.The pen pal also put a face on a war that can be difficult to understand.

"When you know someone there, it's a lot more frightening," said Morgan Gill, 12.

Timmons will return to Fort Polk Aug. 17, before being shipped off to Korea Oct. 20.

The students will be among the first to receive Timmons' new e-mail address.

"You've developed a special bond with her, and I want that to continue," Easterling told them.



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