School program easing GI deployments
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — When military parents kiss their kids goodbye and leave home for faraway duty, it’s the distance, not the destination, that matters.
Soldiers from the Minnesota Army National Guard won’t be complaining about their assignment to help guard bases in merry old England.
“I guess we drew an ace,” said Sgt. Tim Buss. “It could be a lot worse.”
Unlike Iraq, England has no insurgency. No unexpected rocket attacks. No hot-wired explosives lying next to the roadway.
But absent from England, too, are the children of the deployed soldiers.
“Terribly,” Sgt. Jody Reisch said when asked how much he misses his sons Johnathan, 8, and Andrew, 5.
He misses them a bit less, however, because of Adopt-A-Cop, a program at Lakenheath Elementary School that allows the soldiers to spend time with first-graders during school hours.
“To me, it’s therapeutic,” said Reisch. “It’s funny how we look forward to it the next week.”
For several years, the school has promoted a “We Care” project, teaching the children to do good things for their community and for each other. That program has raised enough money to pay for six guide dogs for the blind through a British organization.
Christine Moss, a first-grade teacher, said Adopt-A-Cop works both ways — providing the children with the chance to brighten the lives of soldiers far from home, while the soldiers’ visits offer a welcome break from the routine for the children.
“They’ve come in every week,” said Patricia Claska, a first-grade teacher whose class was visited Thursday by three soldiers. “At first, they wanted to come in for 45 minutes.
“Now, they come for two hours.”
When Reisch, Buss and Sgt. Bryan Thorson walked through the door, they were greeted like rock stars. Children jumped into their arms and begged them to sit next to them.
“I guess my kids have become their surrogate children,” said Claska.
On Thursday, the soldiers helped the youngsters make snowflakes by folding and cutting paper.
“Mr. Jody, this is hard,” said Emily Lorraine as she struggled with the scissors.
“OK, I can help you,” said Reisch.
While Thorson balanced himself on one of the tiny chairs meant for smaller bodies, he smiled as the children asked him for help as they folded and snipped.
“This is kind of a nice break,” said the soldier, who is married but has no children.
Buss, who has two grown children at home, said, “It’s actually fun. It reminds me of my young nieces and nephews.”
When the program began, the soldiers taught the children about Minnesota and the children told the soldiers what it was like to live overseas, Moss said.
“The children also gained an understanding of the duties of these men here in England,” she said.
With formalities out of the way, the soldiers are now as welcome as favorite uncles. Reisch said his dorm room at RAF Lakenheath, where the soldiers are attached to the 48th Security Forces Squadron, is filled with artwork from these children as well as his own two sons.
He said the time spent with the children breaks up the time and also helps the visitors feel like part of the community.
“It’s easier every week. We get to know them. They get to know us,” he said.
The visits aren’t for everyone, however, Reisch said.
“We’ve had guys who did it once and didn’t want to do it again because it was hard on them,” he said. The visits, he explained, made the moms and dads miss their children even more.
But for most of the soldiers of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 125th Field Artillery, the weekly visits with the children have been highlights of the deployment.
“[The students] just love them,” Claska said. “I’m going to be really sad when they leave. Hopefully, we’ve made it easier for them being away from their families.”