By Sgt. Austan OwenJune 17, 2013
LACEY, Wash. - The loud echo of combat boots hitting the floor could be heard as the soldiers entered the building and hustled down the hallways. They moved in pairs, upon reaching their assigned rooms, knocked on the door and entered swiftly. They weren't on a room-clearing mission but something a little less dangerous. Smiles and excited chatter erupted from young students as they gazed at their helpers for the day.
About 40 soldiers from C Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, spent the day with students at Chambers Prairie Elementary School, Lacey, Wash., in support of the school's fun run May 31. The students gathered pledges to earn money for each lap they ran. The money will be used to purchase new playground equipment for the school.
Chambers Prairie Elementary and C Company were partnered together through 3rd Brigade's community connector program two years ago.
Last year the company brought out Strykers and other military equipment to the school for a static display where the students explored the vehicles. During the unit's deployment to Afghanistan students at the school wrote letters and built care packages for the soldiers.
During Friday's event, two soldiers were assigned to each classroom to interact with the students, assist the teacher and cheer on the children during their run.
The day's activities weren't entirely about the fun run. When the children saw the soldiers of C Company walk down the halls the smiles and excited conversation made evident that the soldiers were more than welcome.
Questions of "Do you have a gun?" and "What is the Army like?" were as common as statements of "My dad is in the Army."
Many of the children at the school have first hand knowledge of the Army.
According to second-grade teacher Brianna Landis, about 40 percent of her students are in a military family and many more have extended family that serve.
Spc. Bryan Carpenter, a combat medic with C Company, relates well with the children. A self proclaimed "military brat," he knows about the hardships that some of the children face.
"I was in their shoes growing up - Germany, Korea, Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, Fort Campbell - we moved all over," Carpenter said.
For Carpenter the day was all about having fun, running around with the children and giving back to the community. He said that he couldn't imagine a better way to spend the work day.
Landis, a first year teacher, said she could not believe how powerful a reaction the kids had to the soldiers coming to help.
Landis said having the soldiers come to the school for a day was especially important for one particular child. The young man hopes to join the military in the future and seeing the way the soldiers presented themselves in a courteous and disciplined manner had a powerful impact on him.
Principal Stan Koep said the day was a success in several ways. Everyone had fun, the children played a role in earning their playground equipment while connections with their military partners continue to thrive.
Koep and Capt. Chase Baker, the C Company commander, plan to continue the connection between the school and the unit, and look forward to future events as the children and Soldiers learn from each other.