Last week, an American flag with special meaning was presented to Highland Elementary School.
The same flag was flown on June 5 at Camp Cobra in Darulaman, Afghanistan, in honor of a fourth-grade class of the Sylvania school.
The flag was presented by Navy Cmdr. Keith Hopper, who received letters and other support from students while he served for six months in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Last week Commander Hopper visited for the first time with his pen pals who, during a special assembly in the cafeteria, peppered the supply officer with questions about his time in Afghanistan.
Fourth-grade teacher Judi Fox, who became friends with Com-mander Hopper when he lived in Sylvania years ago, said it was "pretty exciting" that the students could get together with him. The pen-pal arrangement was established because she felt the students could make a difference by sending the commander letters - and some snacks too.
Commander Hopper told the students he appreciated the care packages and the patriotism they showed with their letters. The commander, who hails from Kalamazoo, Mich., said he tried to answer each of the letters he received from the fourth-grade students earlier this year.
Commander Hopper said he's in the Navy Reserve. He considered himself a "weekend warrior" until a year ago, when he was sent to Afghanistan.
After combat training - and after learning how to camp the Army way, eat Army food, and to talk the Army language - he left in December for Afghanistan. He arrived there on New Year's Day. His base camp was on the outskirts of Kabul.
Afghanistan is about the size of Texas. It doesn't have railroads. It doesn't have many roads.
There aren't stop signs or traffic lights. Sometimes traffic includes camels, sheep, or donkeys pulling wheelbarrows. Traffic was a nightmare - sort of like traffic at the mall at Christmas time, he said.
With the assistance of an interpreter, Commander Hopper worked with Afghan troops on supply and logistics matters, such as showing troops how to run convoys.
He traveled to Kabul to get loads of mail and supplies. "I sure liked to get mail," he said. He said he liked the gum and candy too.
During his stay in Afghanistan, he never feared for his safety, he said.
Kabul has experienced years of war and destruction, he said, adding that it was terrible to see so much damage to the city's buildings. The United States is just one of many countries trying to help the Afghans to rebuild roads, schools, and infrastructure, he said, noting that he was pleased that boys and girls are returning to schools to get an education.
He told students that nobody shot at him, that he made good friends with others at the base, and that he followed his father into the Navy. Commander Hopper will retire on Feb. 1, after serving about 30 years in the Navy.
As a special treat, the commander gave his pen pals pencils, bookmarks, and stickers - all with a patriotic theme.
"I think it's really cool for him to be here," said Andrew Miller, a fifth-grade student who was a pen pal last school year with the commander.
Emily Felser, another pen pal, said that "we got individual letters back from him and he sent postcards to the class."
The flag that the commander presented to the students is now fluttering in the breeze on a flag pole in front of Highland Elementary. Last week, while students said the Pledge of Allegiance, Tori Schafer, a captain in Highland School's safety patrol, raised the flag. When it reached the top, the commander gave a crisp salute, triggering a round of applause from his pen pals.