As the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approach, students at Shattuck Elementary are remembering the soldiers who are away from their families still serving in Iraq.

“It’s important to write them letters so they know people are still thinking about them,” said Shayna Moore, a sixth grader at Shattuck.

“They need to know that people are looking out after them,” said Harley Kelln, also a sixth grader at Shattuck.

Several teachers at the school are working with students to send letters to soldiers in Iraq who won’t be home for the holidays. According to Gina Charmasson, the sixth grade teacher for the school, many are sending letters through a program sponsored by Hallmark in which Hallmark provides the cards and postage.

“It’s a way for you to remember that we still have soldiers overseas who won’t be home for the holidays,” Charmasson said as she prepared her sixth graders for the task at hand. “How many of you would like to celebrate Christmas away from your family and friends?”

“They don’t get Christmas presents and stuff, so people can send letters to them and make them feel better,” said Ashtyn Swenn, a sixth grader in Charmasson’s class.

Of the three teachers currently working with students to send letters to the soldiers, every one of them has children in their class who’ve had relatives stationed in Iraq, at some point, since March of 2003.

In Charmasson’s class is Sam Morse, the superintendent’s son, whose cousin, Christopher Kisner, served with the Marines when the war started.

“I do remember that my aunt Joyce was always worried about him,” said Morse.

Mandy Smith’s fourth grade class is also writing letters to the soldiers in Iraq through the Hallmark program. In her class is 10-year-old Kennedy Winn. Winn has an uncle, John Ray, who’s currently in Iraq.

“The kids wanted to talk to him and tell him how much we appreciate what he’s doing,” Smith said.

Phyllis Suthers, a second grade teacher at Shattuck, is also working with her students to write and send letters to the soldiers. Suthers is currently doing the program on her own, and all her letters are sent to John Ray Winn, a former student.

“Right before he left, he came by and told me he was going, and gave me a big hug,” said Suthers who taught Winn in 1994. “What I really remember about John Ray is he always had a big smile on his face.”

In Suthers’ class is Skyler Pshigoda, the high school secretary’s son, whose uncle, Joseph Meller, is currently serving in Iraq. According to Pshigoda’s mother, Glenna, the army sergeant was home last week for the birth of his son. He has since returned to Iraq.

“It’s been really hard,” said Glenna Pshigoda. “It’s really important to me for everyone to realize the families who have men and women serving over there. They need to realize they are missed and life does not just go on like they’re not here.”

“It’s important the kids do this so they don’t forget there are men and women over there that are still protecting us, so the men and women over there don’t think we’ve forgotten them,” Charmasson said.

“If they weren’t over there, all the bad people might be over here,” said Dylan Rush, a second grader.

“If they didn’t fight for us, we would’ve probably already got blowed up,” said Colton Barber, also a second grader.

Also at Shattuck Elementary is Madison Tomlinson, a third grader whose mother is the elementary school’s secretary. Tomlinson’s uncle, Micah Kelln, will be deployed to Iraq after Thanksgiving with the U. S. Army. According to Tomlinson’s mother, Audra, the family doesn’t know much about Kelln’s deployment.

“We don’t know details yet because they’ve asked soldiers not to tell family members over the phone what’s going on,” said Audra Tomlinson.

Not knowing seems to be the hardest part of all for the family members left behind. When the U.S. first went to war with Iraq in March 2003, Ann Peetoom’s son, a member of the national guard, was one of the thousands of soldiers deployed. Peetoom said she had almost no contact with her son during this time.

“Our happiest time was when that phone would ring in the middle of the night, ‘cause we knew we were going to get to talk to him,” said Peetoom, special education teacher. “The phone would ring like three in the morning, and you’d just sit straight up in bed.”

“I was scared and praying for him all the time,” said Carmella Sanchez, the custodian at Shattuck, whose son Randy was deployed to Iraq with the Marines. “I was just thinking about him wherever I went.”

Randy Sanchez, who was wounded in the fighting and received a purple heart during his two tours of duty is currently stationed in California.

“I don’t want him to go back. I think he already did a lot,” said Carmella. “To me, he’s already a hero. He’s a hero at home already.”

“It’s important that the kid’s know what’s going on and what the soldiers are doing over there,” said Smith. “They know more about what’s going on than we let on.”

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