Students receive life lessons, gifts from U.S. soldier in Iraq |

Students receive life lessons, gifts from U.S. soldier in Iraq

Many Americans are quick to say they support the U.S. troops serving in Iraq, but Bear River High School’s Leo Club members have turned their support into a relationship that bonds the teenagers with soldiers on the other side of the world.

Since Christmas, the club – affiliated with the Lions Club – has been sending cards, cookies and good wishes in conjunction with the American Legion Post of Grass Valley. Club members said they have also learned to be more aware of their country and respectful of those who serve it, thanks largely to one man: Staff Sgt. Kenneth Cornell.

After receiving a card from the students, Cornell wrote back, saying his men would love some cookies after eating Army chow in the desert for weeks.

“So we sent some to him,” said 16-year-old Emily Wilde, the club’s vice president. “And then he sent us a picture, and he started writing and he e-mailed us.”

“It was Christmas and we wanted to do something,” said Whitnie Trasport, 18, and the club’s president. “They’re out there to keep us safe and the world safe.”

“It’s really important to because we feel it’s important to support the troops,” said club member Rachel Wilson, 17.

In a letter to the club, Cornell wrote:

“One of our missions in Bagubah, Iraq, involved setting up 35 polling stations throughout the city of 350,000 people. This required us to build safe places where voters could go without feeling threatened.

“I am happy to report that it was a success. Seventy percent of the registered voters cast ballots in this first historic election.

“Thousands came wearing their finest clothes and danced in the streets. What a day it was!”

With the letter, Cornell included a rare gift: an official ballot from the Iraqi election.

“Most leftover ballots were destroyed,” wrote Cornell, now back at his unit’s home base in Bamberg, Germany. “Treasure this document in your clubhouse or school. You made this happen by supporting the troops.”

Club adviser Betty Sandland and Bear River High School teacher and club maven Jane Patterson will frame the unique ballot for posterity and a lesson for those to come.

“It’s nice for them to know that we care about them and he was really proud of us, that we supported them and were letting America know about what they were doing,” Emily said.

“You may think that voting doesn’t matter, but it does,” Whitnie said.

As for the war and international affairs in general, “We take more notice now that we got letters from someone who is actually there,” Rachel said.

The students also have learned how to separate views of soldiers from politically charged views of the war.

“You can support the troops without supporting the war,” Emily said. “They’re still part of our country.”

Sandland said she hopes efforts such as the club’s correspondence will help those at home better relate to soldiers now serving overseas.

“I remember Vietnam and it was a disgrace how (soldiers) were treated when they came back. This encourages people to be more receptive to those young people over there now,” Sandland said. “They need the support.”

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