FORT BENNING, Ga., (Feb. 12, 2014) -- Although last week was Partners in Education Appreciation Week, Stowers Elementary School had another reason to show appreciation for their PIE partners -- with the functional realignment that Fort Benning is undergoing, Stowers lost the 2nd Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, as its PIE partner. The unit, temporarily under 316th Cavalry Brigade, will case its colors at a later date.

Scott Sterry, Stowers' principal said the battalion's dedication has been phenomenal even while the unit is disbanding.

"The commitment and attitude of the Soldiers and the PIE command have been outstanding. These Soldiers have enhanced the lives of our students and teachers," Sterry said. "Likewise, the Soldiers report to us that their lives have been touched by working with our students. We wish them the best as they move to new locations."

For 1st Lt. Shawn Croat, the PIE coordinator for 2nd Bn., 29th Inf. Regt., whose last day with the unit was Feb. 5, the biggest takeaway was what the children got out of the program, he said.

"We made the program more versatile and added spice to their everyday life that I didn't necessarily get when I was in elementary school," he said.

The children also have made an impact on the Soldiers, Croat said.

"I haven't had a lot of exposure around children so I was able to learn a lot of things from them and that was the biggest gratification (for me)," he said.

Fourth-grader Jaden Hunt and fifth-grader Keagan Holder said working with the Soldiers every week helped them build confidence and determination, as well as helped them academically.

Their PIE partners helped them throughout the year, meeting with students every Wednesday, as well as with specific events such as Jingle Bell Jog, fall festival, field day and the chess club.

"It's just wonderful how much time they take to come to (our) school," Keagan said.

Their PIE partners make learning difficult subjects more interesting, Keagan said.

"They (taught) me how to get through Social Studies," he said. "Social Studies has always been hard for me so when they come in they come in I'm like 'thank you, please come in,' (because) they make Social Studies a lot more fun."

Ginger Pearce, Stowers' PIE coordinator, said communication was key to their successful partnership. She and Croat would often communicate several times a week in order to bounce ideas off of each other.

It wasn't hard to get the unit involved, she said. The school coordinates and plans events with the unit all the time.

"It's been a really good program, probably one of the best programs that I have been a part of in the Army," Croat said.

He and other Soldiers who participated with Stowers, he said, enjoyed seeing the impact they had on the children.

"They want to come," Pearce said. "You can see the Soldiers when they are in the classrooms -- they enjoy helping the kids. Teachers do not have to ask them do to anything. If they see a kid with his (or her) hand up they run over to help that kid."

Anything the school has needed, Col. Darren Jennings, battalion commander, has done what he could to help the school -- whether it was providing Soldiers or supplies, Pearce said.

The battalion is also there for students in times of need, such as a deployment. Jaden said when his mom deploys, he not only has his father to lean on but the 2nd Bn., 29th Inf. Regt., as well.

Stowers has a pen pal system in which each class is assigned a Soldier, Pearce said. The students are able to write to their partners, and the Soldier will reply back.

"A lot of letters I've seen from students to the PIE partners are about parents being deployed and how it's affecting that child -- 'I'm sad, I miss my momma, I miss my daddy.' What's it like (to be deployed)?" Pearce said.

It's encouraging for students to get letters back about what it's like to be deployed and also help the children through their parents deployment, she said.

"One of the letters I read, the Soldier wrote back: 'I know when I was deployed I missed my kids a whole bunch too. I know your mom is missing and loving you and thinking about you everyday.' They are good at putting it on kid terms. Most of them have kids and they understand what their kids went through when they were deployed. So they can talk to the kids and explain it."

Sterry said the school looks forward to creating a new PIE partnership.

"They will certainly have huge shoes to fill coming in behind the great legacy of our (2nd Bn., 29th Inf. Regt.,) friends and PIE partners, but we are hopeful there is a group out there ready to take on the challenge," he said.

If there is a unit interested in partnering with Stowers Elementary School, call and ask for Pearce or Sterry at 706-544-2312.

Editor's note: Aniesa Holmes contributed to this report.

Page last updated Wed February 12th, 2014 at 14:58