Preparedness Week: Bugging Out, Snivel Gear, and More
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3rd Graders and One Good Sergeant

Via Denise A., I received permission to post this.  I thought it was interesting what a US Army First Sergeant would have to say to some young Americans in the 3rd Grade back home.  First Sergeant Wathor is getting short on his year in Iraq.  Here are his responses to letters from 3rd graders:

Ms. [redacted] & the 3rd Graders of [redacted] Elementary,

Thank you so much for writing to me and the Soldiers in my unit.  It was a pleasure to read each and every letter and the share the some of the very adult comments and questions many of you posed.  I am sorry for not writing back sooner, I have been pretty busy with things over here.  I will respond to each letter I received in this letter, and will include some photos from some of my missions over here.

For those of you who don’t know, I was stationed in Germany 21 years ago with your teacher’s sister Debra.  We both worked together in a photographic laboratory at a hospital in Landstuhl.  Landstuhl is currently where all of the injured Soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are taken when they can’t be treated properly here on the battlefield.  One of the best things about the military is the friendships you make with people when you are stationed at places around the world.

My job in Iraq has me in charge of a Civil Affairs company.  I am the company First Sergeant.  Our job is to try and find all of the broken down roads, water plants and electrical plants.  These are things that were broken down before the war that we are trying to fix to help make things better for the people of Iraq.  It is a very dangerous job when we have to drive out on the roads to meet the people responsible for these places.  It hasn’t been easy and it is a very slow process.  There is one town where we have built a police station three times only to have it blown up by the insurgents every time it is finished.  Fortunately, we do get things built that last, and a lot of the bad guys are caught everyday, so progress is being made.

Right now we are starting to prepare to come home.  We have been here since April of 2006.  I have been away from my family since December of 2005, so I am really ready to get home to see them.

Here I am on patrol.

The first letter I read was from Noah [redacted].  He wants to be a Marine when he grows up.  Although I am partial to the Army, my son just joined the Air Force and my wife was in the Air Force.  One thing for sure, there is almost nothing more honorable for a person to do in life, when you can dedicate yourself to serve another cause.  Whether it is military service, the Red Cross, nursing or even teaching, it is always nice to be able to go to work everyday knowing you are helping other people. 

Noah’s favorite TV show is Sponge Bob Square Pants and he likes to watch football.  I like to watch CSI and NASCAR racing when I have the time.  Over the last 15 months, I have not had much time to watch any TV at all.  When the Super Bowl was on, it came on around 4:00 in the morning.  I let my guys have the day off so they could watch it and then sleep all day to get some rest.

Samantha wrote thanking us for protecting the United States.  All I can say to that is, it is my absolute pleasure to do what I can to defend freedom around the world.

Cayley was real sincere and wants me to not worry since I will be home soon.  I am very anxious to get home to see my family and my two cats.

Trini, it is very easy to be brave knowing that special people like you are back home supporting us every day.  It sounds like you have been away from your family as well and hopefully neither one of us will ever have to be away from our families ever again...

The rest is after the Jump.  The First Sergeant has some profound words for the 3rd graders about the Pledge of Allegiance and what "supporting the soldiers" means to him.

Lindsey is right about not getting many letters.  I do get a lot of emails from my family which makes it much easier to get through the lonely days.  We only get regular mail about one time a week because it is so dangerous for the mail trucks to travel on the roads.  So once a week, we have a little holiday of sorts with everyone that gets a box from home with goodies.  Lindsey asked what it is like to be a Soldier, well, it has a special feeling when you are in uniform, especially with all of your weapons and things on.  In the heat over hear it can be very hot and heavy.  All of my equipment weighs about 65 to 75 pounds which is a lot to carry and when it gets to be 130 degrees outside I get real sweaty from it all.  We have to watch each other real close to make sure we drink plenty of water so we don’t get sick.

Sarah asked me how many wars I have fought in.  This is my first after 22 years in the Army.  I have been all around the world on peaceful missions but this is my first, and hopefully my last, war.  I am married and have one son, but I also have 2 brothers and 3 sisters that live in Oklahoma and Texas.  They used to get on my nerves when I was a kid but I miss them a lot now that I am older.

Erwin called me a Trooper and asked what kind of food they have in the military.  Some of the places over here have very large cafeterias for the Soldiers to eat at.  My place has a very small cafeteria that gives a choice of some kind of chicken or beef, rice or noodles, and potatoes or green beans.  Or you can get a hamburger or grilled cheese sandwich.  Every now and then they do make macaroni and cheese.  I have never used the cannon ball truck you ask about.  I do see the tanks a lot when we are out.  When I am in Baghdad I hear a lot of explosions all of the time as the war is fought.  Sometimes the sounds are close enough to shake the ground.

Here I am giving a soccer ball to a local boy.

John thinks all of the Soldiers over here are cool and we appreciate those kind thoughts.  It is nice to know that good people like you all are behind us every day.  You are our future, and we need to do everything we can to protect you.

Carsten knows a little bit about how special it is to wear a uniform.  He is in the Cub Scouts.  He earns badges in the Cub Scouts for accomplishing things and so do we in the military.  I have an expert badge with my M-16 rifle and with hand grenades and I have a sharpshooter badge for my pistol.

Anna wants to send all us things to make our time easier.  The most important thing any of us need over here is the support from everyone in the United States.  This war is difficult at times when bad things happen.  Sometimes accidents happen and innocent people get hurt.  We all try very hard to avoid these accidents because we know that the innocent people over here have families they love and want to protect also.  We are just trying to make sure everything is better for them all when we leave.  Hopefully that goal will be met.

Katie must think I am too old to remember the 3rd grade.  I am only 40 years old!  But I do remember the 3rd grade.  My teacher’s name was Mrs. Rowden.  The Army only has about 400,000 people in it.  Not very many people when you stretch them all around the world to help everyone.  The U.S. sends military people all over the world to help other countries make things better for their people.  We don’t always just fight wars, even though we are ready to fight when needed.

I think [school name redacted] must make some really good macaroni and cheese because Brent is also asking if we have it here.  I may have to come by and taste it.  We don’t get much Jell-O here, mostly pudding.  When I was in the 3rd grade, we used to eat our Jell-O by sucking it through a straw.  I am sure we got into some trouble for doing that, but it was fun.  I used to live in Virginia so I know exactly where [redacted] is.  My wife loves to shop at the outlet malls in [redacted].  Now I live in Maryland.

Derrick wrote some very nice comments and asked if we missed our families?  We certainly do.  I did get to go home for 15 days back in November, but I was over here for my birthday and Christmas and several other holidays.  We are supposed to be here for a full year.  That is a long time away from the people you love.  I also miss my two cats that are a lot of fun to play with and pet.  It will be nice to see everyone again when I get home.

Erin wants to know if I am glad the dictator of Iraq is dead?  Well, I don’t think it is good for anyone to be glad someone is dead, but I am glad that he will never hurt anyone ever again.  He was a very bad person and he did a lot of bad things to the country of Iraq.  This country could have been a very pretty place with a lot of modern buildings.  Instead, he was very selfish and he only cared about himself and didn’t want to be a good leader.  It is very important that when you are in charge of something, you have to care for it the best you can.  He didn’t do that very well.  Hopefully, we can help the people of Iraq by letting them elect a good leader that will take care of them better.

Mackenzie said she would love to be with us if she was a Soldier.  I think she would have a good time just like I do being a Soldier.  I do miss my parents and my family but it helps to know that the things I am doing over here will help them by protecting them.  She likes to play soccer.  My favorite sport is playing golf with my friends.  I get to walk on the golf course listening to the birds and watching the squirrels play.  Plus, me and my friends like to tell stories while we are playing.  Sometimes we get to laughing so much it is hard to swing the golf club and the ball goes into the woods and that just gets us laughing even more.

Kelsea is very right about how hard it is to be over here during the holidays.  It is always difficult to spend the holidays away from your family, but I am fortunate that I have gotten to know the men in my unit really well and they are almost like family.  We all shared stories about our families and Christmas back home during the holidays and it made it easier on all of us.

Jacob, I hope you always remember the Pledge of Allegiance and you study all of the words of the pledge and the meaning behind it.  A lot of people suffer in other countries because they don’t know what it is like to be free.  There isn’t a single McDonald’s restaurant in Iraq and to fill up you car with gas can take 9 hours because the lines are so long.  A lot of kids over here spend their days picking through the trash at the dumps.  We don’t have that type of stuff in the United States because we have people who donate their time and money to help the homeless and the poor.  We drove through a trash dump one day and there were two little girls digging through the trash.  We felt so bad we gave them as much stuff as we could.  Every time I say the pledge, I am thankful for all the things we have in the United States.

Little girls digging in the trash.

Chris wants to know if it is loud over here.  I can say that it isn’t very loud normally.  It is just like being at home.  Sometimes it gets noisy when the bad guys shoot mortars at us.  Those explosions are really loud and they can be scary because you don’t really know where they are going to be when they explode.  The helicopters are very noisy when we are riding on them, so we wear ear plugs to protect our hearing.  The last time I rode the helicopter I took a few photographs of the door gunner while we were flying.  Anytime we move around over here we are either driving or flying and both ways are very dangerous.  We are very careful when we move from place to place to watch out for the bad guys.  We all really want to come home soon all safe and sound.

Flying over Baghdad.

Tysin’s letter is the last one I received and he expressed his thanks for what we are doing over here in Iraq.  Again, it is our pleasure to do our part, for our nation and the people we love.

I hope you are all having a wonderful time this winter back in Leesburg.  Please do your best while you are in school at [redacted].  Before you all know it, Spring will be here and it will be time to go outside and play.  I am also looking forward to Spring because I am supposed to come home in April, and we are all looking forward to being with our families again.  Thank you all for writing to us.  I hope you enjoy the photographs, and I hope my response to you all has helped you to understand what it is like in Iraq.