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Austin Pieters holds up the book he made about his dad, Navy civilian Robert Pieters, Wednesday at Sollars Elementary School.
Austin Pieters holds up the book he made about his dad, Navy civilian Robert Pieters, Wednesday at Sollars Elementary School. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Austin Pieters with his dad and hero, Robert Pieters, a Navy civilian at Misawa Air Base.
Austin Pieters with his dad and hero, Robert Pieters, a Navy civilian at Misawa Air Base. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Jennifer Glover said she chose her dad, Tech. Sgt. Jimmy Glover, as her hero because of his big heart, great talents and sense of humor.
Jennifer Glover said she chose her dad, Tech. Sgt. Jimmy Glover, as her hero because of his big heart, great talents and sense of humor. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Lance Armstrong may have overcome cancer to win the Tour de France a record six times, but the world-famous cyclist doesn’t hold a candle to dads and moms at this northern Japan base.

When Sollars Elementary School teacher Karen Griffis asked her fifth-graders to choose a hero in their local community to feature in a writing project, most picked one of their parents.

“She does my laundry and sometimes packs my lunch,” said Christian Fejeran of her mom, Yasuko Gourdine. “I cannot survive without my mom.”

Fejeran was one of 12 students who read about his hero during a special author’s tea in Griffis’ classroom Wednesday afternoon. Parents and a few siblings ate cookies and drank lemonade while students shared stories and pictures about fathers who coach soccer and play pranks; of mothers who braid hair and help with homework; and a big brother who also is a best friend. Misawa’s heroes in the eyes of 10-year-olds fly jets, wait tables, attend middle school, teach, mentor youth and fix aircraft parts. They are both ordinary and extraordinary.

“As you can see, a hero doesn’t have to be a superhero,” said Alex Best of his dad, Air Force Col. Eric Best, 35th Operations Group deputy commander and F-16 fighter pilot. “If it weren’t for my dad, I would not be here and be the person that I am.”

More than half of the fifth-graders making presentations Wednesday chose their father as hero. Most of the super dads were either Air Force or Navy members, but their kids talked more about time their fathers spent with family, from dirt biking on weekends to playing a game of catch.

“Everything’s special about my dad,” said Jennifer Glover of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jimmy Glover. “He is my favorite person in the whole world.”

Megan Goynes said her dad was heroic because “he cares about me. I can talk to him when I want to, and he is just the best dad ever. That is why he is a hero to me.”

Master Sgt. Duane Goynes said he was touched by his daughter’s words and now more than ever has big shoes to fill.

“I hope I can live up to her expectations,” he said, “and don’t let her down.”

Griffis’ students spent several months working on their books. They had to come up with their own interview questions, write several drafts and draw pictures for illustrations. They also practiced in front of their classmates for the author’s tea. This is the second year Griffis has done the project at Sollars after starting it about 10 years ago while teaching in the United States, she said.

“It gives a purpose for their writing and lets them shine as writers,” she said of the event. “It also gives them a chance to tell the people who are special to them how much they mean to them. For a lot of parents, this is the first time their kids have publicly said how much they mean to them.”

Griffis’ classes in the States tended to choose heroes from the community-at-large, such as a business person or teacher. She’s found at Misawa about 90 percent of her students select one of their parents, she said. “It shows they have a lot of pride in their family.”

The other half of Griffis’ class were to present their books Friday from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Classroom 202.

A number of dads were to be recognized, and so, too, were a pastor and even a few moms. Brynn Molin proudly said she plans to talk about her mom, Kristine “because she cares about me and she loves me.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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