Soldiers, students send holiday cheer downrange
December 12, 2012
GATESVILLE, Texas -- First Army Division West's 166th Aviation Brigade and its Adopt-a-School partner, Gatesville Elementary School, are broadening the nature of their relationship for an end-of-year seasonally inspired project. The two are assembling holiday care packages to send to deployed service members.
Principal Pam Bone of Gatesville Elementary School and 166th Aviation Brigade Commander Col. Kevin Vizzarri devised the concept early in November. During a typical week, you would find leaders from the 166th traveling from Fort Hood to Gatesville on a weekly basis to spend lunchtime with the 200-plus elementary school students. But on this day, the focus would shift away from the lunch table, and shine the spotlight on individuals who will be spending their holiday away from their friends and family, and potentially amidst harm's way.
As a father of two and no stranger to deployments, Vizzarri knows how important this season is to the Soldiers and their Families. "Being away from your loved ones during the holidays is difficult. We hope to bring a smile and a feeling of community support to our deployed Soldiers," he said.
The brigade recruited Soldiers to participate in this event, and compiled the names of deployed service members. "Not only is it our end-of-year activity with the school, it is also the season of giving and a fantastic opportunity for us to get together and mentor the young children," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey S. Amos, commander of the 1st Battalion, 337th Regiment, 166th Aviation Brigade.
To make the project a success, the school acquired boxes and labels, but left the selection of contents entirely up to the children. The brigade provided some overall guidance, but wanted the children to feel empowered to choose what items went inside each box. At the event, the leaders engaged with the children, and spoke to them about the significance that each item might have to a Soldier who is deployed.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert L. Lowry, a pilot for 166th Aviation Brigade, told the children about his two deployments to Iraq, which both caused him to spend Christmas away from family. "These boxes give you something to look forward to -- a reminder from home." The item he enjoyed most when he was deployed: "… a big can of roasted almonds."
Gatesville School Counselor Jody R. Janek said this is the first time she's seen an event of this nature.
"The Soldiers are a positive influence in the lives of our children," she said. "It helps the students understand that our heroes are people just like them."