OTTAWA — For most people, experiencing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is only accomplished by way of television and other media, with reporters giving their interpretation of the events going on around them. Very rarely do people get to see those events through the eyes of the soldiers themselves.
That is not the case for Jill Schumaker's fourth-grade class at Ottawa Elementary School. On Tuesday, the pupils received letters from Pfc. Thomas Magoto, an army police officer serving with the Ohio Army Reserve, 437th Military Police Battalion, based out of Columbus.
Magoto had sent the entire class a letter, along with shorter notes to each individual pupil. Other members of Magoto's battalion also sent letters to each pupil, describing seemingly menial things like what the weather's like and what football team they root for, as well as what it's like to be serving their country so far from home.
Magoto's wife, Gretchen, has served as liaison between her husband and the class, and she was on hand to present the letters and answer questions from the pupils.
“They were a lot more excited than I thought they'd be,” she said. “It's such a great thing for the soldiers to have the opportunity to reach out and let these kids know what they do over there.”
According to Schumaker, this project seemed to just fall into place.
“My husband works with Gretchen at the bank, and she asked if we'd save newspapers for her to send articles to her husband,” she said. “My thought was, 'Sure, but we should do something more so we can show support for our veterans.'”
Because letter writing is part of her standardized instruction, the idea of corresponding with Magoto and the other local soldiers, many of whom are based out of areas such as Columbus, Toledo or Middletown.
“I thought this was a great opportunity,” Schumaker said.
The pupils' reactions were enthusiastic, to say the least.
“The day after we sent the letters, they were wanting to know if they were coming back yet,” Schumaker said.
Gretchen said many of the soldiers were just as eager to write as the pupils were.
“I think there were about five or six who wrote letters along with Thomas,” she said.
It was hard for the students to contain their enthusiasm as Schumaker passed out the letters, written to each pupil by name.
When one pupil asked why his letter was typed rather than handwritten, Gretchen said that the pupil's letter came from Magoto's commanding officer.
“Wow, you got a letter from the boss!” the other pupils said.
The class plans on continuing to correspond with Magoto and the other soldiers, while Gretchen looks forward to seeing her husband again in March.
“Even just helping with these letters, I've even been able to learn so much about that life,” she said.