GATESVILLE, Texas -- Soldiers of Division West's 166th Aviation Brigade spent lunch with the children of Gatesville Elementary School Oct. 19 as part of the brigade's Adopt-a-School initiative.

Each week, the 166th Aviation Brigade's noncommissioned officers, warrant officers and commissioned officers alike take time to sit and visit with the large student body at lunchtime.

During that hour, about 200 wide-eyed, 7- to 9-year-olds funneled in and out of the cafeteria, offering an array of inquiries, distributing free hugs, and tugging on the Soldiers' uniforms to gain attention -- all while munching on corn dogs and mandarin oranges and drinking Capri Suns.

"The weekly date creates a routine, wherein we, the Soldiers, get to know the kids, and vice versa. That's what makes this so special," said Sgt. 1st Class Cynthia Pearson. "They run up and hug us, because they remember us from a week ago. It makes me feel as though we have an impact."

The students pressed Sgt. 1st Class Donald Vess to address the topics of war and weapons, as the boys, in particular, threw a slew of tough questions his way.

"It's amazing; their young minds are like sponges," Vess said. "They know more about guns and ammo than you'd expect from any 8- or 9-year-old." The possible reason for this level of understanding? Many of the children have military parents.

"Often, simply by virtue of being in the Army, and in uniform, we may remind them of their mom or dad," said Lt. Col. Philip Graham, the 166th Aviation Brigade's executive officer. "So, sometimes, the luncheon can turn a bit emotional."

Hugs from the Soldiers mean so much to the children, said several of the school's staff.

But this day was all smiles, as the Soldiers worked diligently to keep to the subjects of Halloween costumes, favorite classes and hobbies.

"We couldn't ask for a better partnership," said Col. Kevin Vizzarri, 166th Aviation Brigade commander.

Page last updated Tue October 30th, 2012 at 11:57