U.S. Air Force Airmen, from left, Lt. Col. Terry Thiem, 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron; Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Taylor, 361st ERS superintendent; 1st Lt. Scott Ball, 361st ERS; Master Sgt. Jody Kouma, 451st Expeditionary Operations Group first sergeant; Capt. Pedro Esquivel , 361st ERS; (back from left) Capt. Otto Gerdeman, 361st ERS; and Capt. David Hidalgo, 361st ERS talk via Skype here with students at Mason High School in Mason, Ohio. Nov. 12. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Russell Martin)
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (November 16, 2012) — It’s not uncommon for deployed military members to receive boxes of goodies and letters from organizations and classes back in the United States. What is a little out of the ordinary is when thanking those groups turns into something bigger.
Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Taylor, 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron superintendent, received a care package in October from an American History class at Mason High School, Mason, Ohio. The package was part of a Support the Troops initiative by Katie Hicks, Mason High School social studies department. The package contained snacks, supplies and some personalized letters to the Airmen serving at KAF.
“As the superintendent, I went through the box to see what I could distribute to my Airmen,” Taylor said. “There were so many goodies and things that I was kind of overwhelmed. But what really got me was the personalized letters that were in there expressing the students’ support for troops. One letter was from Katie, the class teacher, so I did some research and reached out to her to let her know we got the package and to thank her for thinking about us.”
From there, the two began formulating a plan to introduce some of the students at Mason High School to a handful of Airmen who are currently serving in Afghanistan. What started out as a selfless act of thanking America’s Airmen, became an opportunity for the Airmen to help give students a real-life look into the deployed environment.
Since Veteran’s Day fell on a Sunday, Taylor and Hicks coordinated five Skype sessions with the students for Sept. 12, when school would be back in session. Each session lasted between 20 and 45 minutes, and tended to be the latter as the more than 650 students and handful of Airmen continued to talk about everything from the food deployed service members eat to which sports teams they cheer for.
The Airmen ranged from active duty to Air National Guard, from officers to enlisted, and from pilots and maintainers to administrative personnel, but they all had one thing in common… the chance to talk with the next generation of Americans. And a positive impression was left on the students and faculty alike.
“We all came back up to our classrooms and just commented on so many aspects of the day,” said Hicks. “This was certainly a memorable teaching day as we got to see the kids truly engaged and excited about learning from all of you.”
Some of the students were texting and taking pictures during the sessions conversing with the Airmen, and Hicks has already received emails from students’ parents expressing how inspired their children were after talking with real service members serving in Afghanistan.
“I think there will be some great conversations around dinner tables tonight in Mason thanks to all of you,” Hicks said. “As wives and husbands and parents it just makes us all the more thankful and appreciative of the time we have with our families. As Americans it makes us proud and helps us feel secure to know we are protected by a first-class military with such talented, smart people.”
A common theme during the sessions was how time had little presence while deployed. Once Airmen establish a routine every day seems the same as before, according to 1st Lt. Scott Ball, 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron MC-12 pilot.
“It’s kind of like Groundhog Day,” said Ball to the students. “You wake up, get your shower or gym time in, go and get a cup of coffee before meeting the challenges of the day and then before you know it, it’s dinner time. Then you go back to you room, read a book, watch whatever movies you have on your tablet or laptop until it’s time to go to bed, and the next day you start all over. “
However, Taylor admitted the time spent talking to the students will stick out in his memory as not just another day while deployed.
“While for many of us, it seemed like no big deal…our small actions have greater effects then we know and realize in those moments,” Taylor said. “I think we got as much out of today as they did. It was a fun day. And it definitely wasn’t just another ‘Groundhog Day.’ It’s a day that I will member for a long time.”