Army captain, teacher form bond through art
May 19, 2014
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo (May 14, 2014) -- When deployed, the simplest of things can make a service member feel at home and, for one Soldier, a two-year-old card was all he needed.
U.S. Army Capt. Steven Northrop, battle captain for Kosovo Force's Multinational Battle Group-East, found a 'butterfly' card pinned to a board while he was cleaning an office after arriving at Camp Bondsteel last February.
He kept it from being thrown away because it reminded him of home.
"The drawing on it reminded me of something that my daughter would draw," said the Gulfport, Miss., native. "Since we just arrived here, I didn't have anything to decorate my workspace or my room to remind me of my family so I pulled the card from the board."
Opening the card, Northrop found out the card was sent from a student at Reedsburg Area High School in Reedsburg, Wis., saying thank you to service members for the sacrifices they make.
Northrop wanted to return the favor.
"I always like it when people take a moment out of their time to just say a simple thank you or an appreciation for what we do," said Northrop. "On the back was an address, so I sent [the listed teacher's name] an email telling her I found this card from her students and I would like to say thank you for the recognition that you and your students are giving our men and women in uniform."
Soon thereafter, he received a response from Jolee Mockler, an art teacher at RAHS, who has sent cards and care packages to deployed troops since 2006.
"It's my mission to give our students the opportunity to tell the troops 'thank you' and I've never had a student stay no to making cards," said Mockler.
Her selfless service doesn't end there, however, as she also coordinates with local schools in the district to also make cards and collect goods for the troops.
"Every holiday, I send out a district-wide email requesting cards and items," said Mockler. "The items and cards are sent to me at the high school and we pack and send the care packages to deployed troops."
Mockler added her drive to keep doing what she does, comes from the responses she gets back from service members around the world.
"We receive so much love and appreciation for the simple act of sending cookies and making cards," said Mockler.
Many times, photos from the troops accompany their letters, which she puts on a dedicated wall called, 'Mockler's Wall of Heroes.'
"[The wall] started after Sept. 11, 2001, when some of my former students joined the military," said Mockler. "I asked them for their military graduation picture and started the wall and it has grown and grown."
The passion she feels for honoring the troops has become contagious among the students and school staff, and Mockler said she feels it is important to keep supporting service members throughout the world.
"We wouldn't have all the freedoms we do in this great country of ours, if not for our troops, who are willing to sacrifice so much for us," said Mockler. "We must never forget all that our troops do selflessly for the rest of us back home."
Both Northrop and Mockler have kept in touch since the initial thank you note was discovered, and Mockler has sent additional letters and boxes to soldiers in the current Kosovo Force rotation. With each deployed unit, she receives new photos and her continued support is there for all to see as her wall of heroes gets bigger and bigger.