Over the past year, soldiers in Iraq have made some "Furry" friends.
As part of Furry Elementary's "Auto-B-Good" school-wide guidance program, students have tackled eight different themes this year, including obedience, respect and self-control. They also have participated in several service projects.
To incorporate the winter's "dependability" theme, second-grade classes started corresponding with soldiers in Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq.
"Each year for the past 10 years we've chosen new military people to write to," guidance counselor Diane Smith said. "I graduated with Michael (Hudson) and his wife, Karin, from Perkins, and being this is his second tour in Iraq, we decided to write to him. We usually chose a man or a woman but this time we had a whole unit."
The students had lots of things to say to soldiers.
"We told them we hope you come back soon," second-grader Carrington Chambers said.
"And we asked them if they were ready for the holidays and stay safe," second-grader Chase Fox said. "We asked if everybody's OK."
What began as sending silly crafts and candy slowly developed into compassionate correspondence, Smith said.
"Yes, we made them goofy crafts and sent them candy, but the responses we've gotten back have been overwhelming," she said. "The correspondence they've sent is full of heartfelt details and they're really grateful for what the students are doing."
Soldiers posed for pictures they sent to the classes by e-mail, and made collages, thanking the students by name for their creations of snowmen, frogs, drawings and support.
"Thank you very much for sending us the frogs," Major Scott Leonard wrote. "The children have once again produced excellent work and my snowman is glad to have some company."
"I enjoy having the frog keep me company at my desk throughout the day," wrote Capt., EN, Ernesto A. Acosta.
Family members of the troops sent heartfelt thank-yous to the students as well.
"I think it (receiving the artwork) made his day after a rough week," Irma Acosta, mother of Ernesto wrote. "We, the families, appreciate your prayers and thoughts for our sons and daughters over seas."
On Thursday morning, the students of Kim Schuelers' second-grade class gathered around Smith on the carpet to talk about why they wrote the soldiers.
The students were happy to hear their Marine friend, Michael Hudson, had recently returned home to his family in Japan.
The children beamed as Smith told them how Hudson's wife had picked him up late at night and, when his two young sons woke up the next morning, their dad was there.
"How would you feel if someone said you're favorite toy had to go away for nine months," she asked the students. "You'd feel very sad, wouldn't you?"
Nodding their heads in agreement, the students explained why they thought writing the troops was important and why they, as second-graders, could relate to their "big brothers" in Iraq.
"Do you know why second grade was chosen," Smith asked.
"Because we're the bigger ones," Alexis Yontz replied.
"That's right," Smith said. "The kindergarten and first-graders look up to you just like you look up to your friends in Iraq."
Psyan Collins said she was delighted to send stuff to the unit.
"We didn't need anything back in return," she said. "They're there so we can be safe."
Schueler said the excitement mounted when responses came in and it was wonderful to see the kids working together to bring joy to the deserving troops.
"Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to make those frogs for us," Major Don Taylor wrote. "We truly love them all. And for the children that have parents over here in harm's way also, I'm sure that they are taking (it) one day at a time. They are counting their blessings and waiting for the day they can hold you in their arms again. I know that they pray each night for this thing to end just as I do."
To communicate with the troops in the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq, correspondence can be sent to:
SGM Dave Short