The students in the seventh grade at Western Hills Middle School on the King Cobras and Tenacious Tigers teams are sending holiday cheer to Rhode Island soldiers serving overseas.
Suzanne Murray, English Language Arts teacher on the King Cobras team, spearheaded the project when her daughter Colleen Salisbury, an Army National Guard E4 Specialist, suggested that the students participate in the "Pack it Up" program that sends letters and cards to the armed forces for the holidays.
The students worked diligently to write approximately 140 heartfelt letters and to create more than 50 handmade Christmas cards as well, in a very short period of time after the Thanksgiving holiday recess.
Salisbury arrived at Western Hills to collect the greetings and to speak with the students, thanking them for all they have done for the soldiers.
Before Salisbury arrived, Murray herself thanked the students and let them know what a wonderful job they did on all of their letters and cards.
"Today we are here for a really great reason," she said. "These cards will go to overseas and will go to Rhode Island troops only. One of the best things they can receive is a handwritten letter.”
Murray held up the thick stack of letters and told the students that as she looked through them all, "the same words kept coming up over and over. Words like dedication, risk-taking, appreciation, sacrificing, respect, gratitude, heroes, brave, hardworking and courageous."
She noted that the soldiers would know how much they are appreciated when the letters and cards are received.
As the parent of two military personnel, one son who is a Marine and Salisbury in the Army, Murray knows how hard it is for soldiers to be away from their families and what it means for the families to sacrifice that time.
"My daughter joined the Army about two years ago. She had a nice job in Quonset working in an office. And then two years ago August, she got word that she'd be leaving in October. One year ago in November, we had Thanksgiving and she left the day after," Murray said. "She was in Kuwait for one year and returned on Oct. 11. She was there almost a full year. Now she is working in Cranston in an office."
When Salisbury arrived at Western Hills Middle School, she was thrilled to see how many cards and letters she would be taking back with her to be shipped out.
"Thank you so much, these mean the world to me," Salisbury said. "It's a blast to get one of these when you are there. We get boxes and boxes of letters from students. We all miss our families when we are gone for the year but we do it because we love it.”
During the question and answer session, Salsibury explained a bit about her 10-week boot camp and what it entailed.
"Boot camp is 10 weeks long. It's hard but it's rewarding and lots of fun. You get to do things you'll probably never get to do again in your life," she said.
When asked her favorite part of being in the Army, Salisbury immediately answered that it was the friends that she made when she was away.
"The friends I made are the best friends in the world," she said.
Salisbury said she enjoys her job with the Army because she gets to help soldiers with any problems that come up, through her job at the Joint Forces Headquarters in Cranston. She also enjoys being able to help locally when the National Guard is called out for issues such as the recent Hurricane Sandy.
Before gathering the cards and gifts, Salisbury presented two students, one from each of the two teams, with special coins which have the Army values printed on the back.
"These coins are given to people who do something outstanding. It's a coin of excellence and appreciation," she said.
The coins were presented to Connor Rogan and Lincoln Pollock. Rogan is on the King Cobras team and Pollack is from the Tenacious Tigers team.
Salisbury also left the faculty members with items that could be used as incentives throughout the school year.
As she left, she again thanked the students for their letters and cards and let them know how much they would mean to the deployed soldiers.
"The Rhode Island National Guard deploys more than any other guard in the country," she said. "We have aviation and medic units which are often in need so we are constantly sending out units and returning them home. These cards and letters will mean so much to them.”