Letter exchange cheers Airmen away from home

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman James Hodgman
  • 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron
Since Airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron here can't be home for the holidays, a group of elementary students from Florida have been sending season's greetings by exchanging letters.

"It started with 10 letters, and the school in Orlando called up, asking if we could get 10 people to respond," said Master Sgt. John Turner the 379th ECES first sergeant. "I asked my squadron and we got 88 volunteers interested in writing back to the kids."

Letters began arriving earlier this month from students. The high level of interest from the 379th ECES motivated an even greater number of students to write letters -- 430 to be exact.

Airmen took out their pens and started writing, and in only three days they had written letters back to all the students and mailed the letters along with two American flags encased in shadow boxes.

"I'm not surprised that the kids and Airmen wanted to do this," said Col. Deborah Kirkhuff the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing host nation coordination cell director. Colonel Kirkhuff made the corresponding coordinations with her mother, Roz Mullen who tutors at Outreach Love, an Orlando-area mentoring program for at-risk children attending Fern Creek Elementary School.

Getting participation on both sides of the ocean proved to be easy. From there the program grew -- and grew fast.

"We really do appreciate everything they're doing to keep us going over here and to keep our spirits up," said Airman 1st Class Joshua Witmer, a liquid fuels maintainer with the 379th ECES.

Airman Witmer wrote five cards for the students, who range in age between 4 and 11. In many of the letters students asked what life in the Air Force is like and if it was fun serving. The letters, he says, are a great way to stay connected during the holidays.

"It makes you feel better during the holiday season when you're separated with family or friends," he said. "It makes you happy that people still care."

Senior Airman Larnel Blount, a utilities systems apprentice with the 379th ECES, thinks the letter-writing exchange is an important learning tool for young kids to get involved.

"Working with kids is always a positive," he said. "I love kids. They look at us as heroes and for them to receive a card from a hero -- it's great for them."

When the call for volunteers came from Sergeant Turner, Airman Blount jumped at the chance to write some letters. So far he's written nine letters to the students thanking them for their support, and hoping they've been good so Santa pays them a visit tomorrow.

The program will likely continue after the holidays as more than 40 Airmen have given students their personal mailing addresses here so they can continue exchanging letters. And other squadrons here have initiated similar letter-writing efforts with schools back in the states as well.

"By sending cards and letters we're able to be closer to home." Airmen Blount said. "This is a good program that's helping both us here and the kids back in school."

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