By Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma, 1st Cavalry Division Public AffairsJanuary 18, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas - Although most junior high students are in school on a Wednesday afternoon, studying for the next math test or thinking about the next school dance, more than 100 H.G. Isbill Junior High School students got an up-close-and-personal experience with military life during a welcome home ceremony held at the 1st Cavalry Division's parade field Jan. 16.
The sixth graders of the McGregor, Texas, middle school recently won a school-wide drive to collect items for care packages for Soldiers deployed to Iraq. The six grade class pulled in more than 2,000 points - out doing their fellow classmates. Items were given anywhere from 5 points for toiletry items to 15 points for clothing items such as a package of socks or a three-pack of t-shirts.
"It's really cool that we won. We should do stuff like this for Soldiers who are fighting for us," said 12-year-old Brett Boles. "It's even cooler to be able to see Soldiers in person. The Soldiers we are trying to help."
During the last couple of years the drive has been held in order to support the troops who are fighting the nation's wars and the winning class has been rewarded with a trip to the First Team's Horse Cavalry Detachment, but this year, as troops redeploy, the detachment has been busy with the homecoming ceremonies.
Since the Soldiers of the horse detachment were currently manning a hectic schedule, the children unloaded the yellow school buses and into the division's museum parking lot, but not long after they were told to load back up because Soldiers were going to reunite with their families just down the street.
"Since they just unloaded the buses they were a little agitated, but as soon as they realized they were going to watch Soldiers coming home from Iraq it didn't take to long for them to get excited," said one of their teachers Judy Gromatzky.
Jessica Diaz, wife of Sgt. Jesus Diaz, an infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, said that having a whole class of six graders shows great support for the sacrifices Soldiers and their families make. It is especially important for Soldiers who don't have family here to get that extra support, she added.
"We had students and teachers alike wanting to go and hug the Soldiers, especially the ones that seemed to not have any family to greet them," Gromatzky said.
Bright-eyed Bowles added that he's honored to be able to watch their families and how they react when their Soldiers get home.
"Experiencing a home coming is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and when it's over the museum will be there," Donna Smith said.
Smith said that her town was very supportive of the military and she jumped at the opportunity to show the kids to be how deployments and military life affects the families.
"It's something everyone should watch at least once in their lifetime," said Smith, one of the trip's organizers. "It's something you can see everyday and you wouldn't lose that feeling.
"That 'Go! America, go!' feeling."
Bowles said that it's important for children his age to get involved and help support Soldiers and their families.
"That's great that they want to be a part of it," Diaz said.
"We had a wonderful time today and the students were very impressed by the welcome home ceremony. We had a lot of student participation and discussion. Many students were moved by the fact that the troops had not been home for so long," Gromatzky said.
After combating a 15-month deployment, over 400 troopers from the division's 1st 'Ironhorse' Brigade and a few from 2nd 'Black Jack' Brigade were reunited with their families and friends, and the 'Bulldog' sixth graders got to watch the emotional event happen in person.