HEIDELBERG, Germany -- School children from Crete, Neb., recently provided a sweet surprise for some Soldiers, and they didn't even have to cross the ocean to do it.

The fourth through eighth-graders hand-made nearly 1,000 Valentine's Day cards to be distributed among the Heidelberg, Kaiserslautern and Mannheim military communities.

The command sergeants major from those communities met with leaders and representatives from tenant units to sort the cards and plan the distribution Feb. 11.

"As a Soldier, it's always a personal gratification I get when we receive anything from students, whether they are elementary or high school," said U.S. Army Garrison Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg Command Sgt. Maj. Yolanda Lomax. "To receive anything from a child is always a gift - a gift well received."

The card project was coordinated through TeamMates Mentoring program, a one-to-one mentoring program matching caring adults in the community with school students in the sixth through 12th grades, according to Zoe White, the program coordinator for the Crete school system.

"I believe students love to help and encourage other people, if they are given the opportunity," White said. "In so doing, these students learn the value of service to country, along with thinking of others. Teaching kids to 'pay it forward' plays an important role, something I hope they make a habit of."

This is the fifth year the students have made cards for service members; the first three years the cards were delivered to the Veterans Administration hospital in nearby Lincoln, Neb., and last year they were sent to Basic Training and Individual Ready Reserve Soldiers at Fort Jackson, S.C.

"I had a son completing his basic training at Fort Jackson, and thought that including active servicemen/women in the project that year would provide a more personal touch for the kids," White said in an e-mail.

"It was so fun to see where the valentines went, and see the smiles on the faces of those who received them last year," she said. "Sending them to Germany is allowing us to acknowledge those men and women who are already stationed overseas, where we're hoping to brighten their day by saying 'thank you!'"

Nearly 500 students, faculty and teachers made a card, with many making more than one.

"I wish you could be here to see their faces, from teachers instructing about this project, to the students' enthusiasm in their sentiments and artwork, is simply precious," she said. "These kids absolutely love doing this. Including staff in this also shows the students that we're all in this together."

Lomax said a project like this is a great way to boost the morale of the troops stationed here.

"I believe it's going to make their day," she said. "A lot of them have left their little brothers and little sisters at home, for the ones who have children and have had to leave their children back in the United States for whatever reason. To receive this card is going to mean a lot to them."

USAG Kaiserslautern Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Jessup pointed out many of the young Soldiers here are away from home for the first time, so receiving a card from a child shows the support boost they sometimes may need.

The sergeants major decided to tie this delivery in with the Army's Year of the NCO. The theme for February is "What do NCOs do'" and Lomax hopes the NCOs delivering the cards will remind their junior Soldiers just how important they are to the Army as a whole.

"By going out there now with these Valentine's Day cards and looking at our junior leaders in the face and saying happy Valentine's Day, and saying it from the heart and meaning it with all sincerity, they'll appreciate us as leaders and also the job that they do," she said.

White said this project is just a little way to send love and support from Nebraska to Germany.

"If it were not for the multitude of troops, from those on the front lines to all of those in support positions, each one is a part of a team - a team that keeps our country safe, allowing us the multitude of freedoms we enjoy," she said. "Honoring our servicemen/women should be in our daily thoughts."

To see a video of this event, visit USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg's YouTube channel.

(Editor's Note: Kristen Marquez works in the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg Public Affairs Office)