by Master Sgt. Russell Martin
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
11/19/2012 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- It's
not uncommon for deployed military members to receive boxes of goodies
and letters from organizations and schools back in the United States.
Letters of thanks are also common but the connection forged by the 361st
Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron Airmen was a little out of the
Above and beyond one might say.
Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Taylor, 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance
Squadron superintendent, received a care package 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. What really got me was the
personalized letters 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 formulated a plan to introduce students at Mason
High School to a Airmen currently serving in Afghanistan. What started
out as a selfless act of thanking America's Airmen became an opportunity
for the Airmen to give students a real-life look into the deployed
Since Veteran's Day fell on a Sunday, Taylor and Hicks coordinated five
video teleconference sessions using Skype to talk with the students when
school would be back in session Sept. 12. Each 20 to 45 minute session
enabled more than 650 students and handful of Airmen to talk about
everything from the food deployed service members eat to the sports
teams they support.
Skype is a software application that uses a voice-over-Internet protocol
to enable computers and mobile devices to perform video
Taylor's initiative led to a cross section of Airmen taking part
in teleconference sessions; from active duty to Air National Guard,
officers to enlisted, and pilots and maintainers to administrative
personnel. They all had one thing in common: the chance to talk with the
next generation of Americans.
The experience left a positive impression on the students and faculty alike.
"This was certainly a memorable teaching day as we got to see the kid's
truly engaged and excited about learning from all of you," said Hicks
about the student's talk with Airmen. "We all came back up to our
classrooms and just commented on so many aspects of the day."
Some of the students were texting and taking pictures during the
sessions to converse 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, each day seems the same
as the day 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.
"I think we got as much out of the day as they did. It was a fun day."
Taylor said. "It definitely wasn't just another 'Groundhog Day.' It's a
day that I will member for a long time!"