FOSTORIA - Pictures of Saddam Hussein's palace and a massive ship that delivered U.S. soldiers to Iraq prompted a chorus of "ooohs" and "ahhhs" from second and third graders at Field Elementary yesterday.
The youngsters' "adopted soldier," Lt. Col. J.C. Gentry of Georgetown, Ind., brought slides, souvenirs, and stories to the children who had sent his Indiana National Guard soldiers 380 pairs of thick white socks and boxes of school supplies for children in Iraq.
No question from the curious 8 and 9-year-olds was off-limits as the tall, camouflage-clad soldier stood before them in the school gymnasium.
Did you worry about getting shot? a little girl asked.
"You get so busy doing what you're supposed to be doing every day that you don't think about getting shot," Colonel Gentry replied. "It's not until it's over that you think, 'Wow.'●"
How many people shot at you, her classmate quickly fired back?
"Every few days," the soldier answered without elaborating.
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Did you capture Saddam? one boy wondered.
"We didn't capture Saddam, but we were in the country when they did capture him," he said.
Fostoria Mayor John Davoli joined in, asking why the officer had an A+ on his combat boots.
"My blood type is A-positive. You always write your blood-type on your boots," the soldier replied.
Sally Green, a second-grade teacher at Field Elementary, made the connection with Colonel Gentry - her husband's cousin - in November after learning he was in Iraq in charge of 700 soldiers whose socks were being worn thin in the desert sand. She talked to her principal, Pamela Van Mooy, and decided that collecting socks would be a great project for the school.
Mrs. Green's class also exchanged letters, e-mails, and two exciting conference calls with Colonel Gentry.
"I thought it was great to meet J.C. for the first time," said second grader Kierra Settles.
In addition to the socks, Field students collected 46 boxes of crayons, 704 pencils, 16 rulers, 91 erasers, 57 notebooks, 122 pens, 43 pencil sharpeners, and 57 boxes of chalk for school children in Iraq. They were eager to hear what schools were like in Iraq and how the kids liked the gifts.
"The schools were very primitive, overcrowded, and undersupplied," Colonel Gentry told them. "They were amazed at the generosity that came from you guys here."
Colonel Gentry, of the 1st Battalion, 152nd Infantry Division, showed pictures of his "plush" accommodations - a camp of tents and sand bags, the Christmas play his men put on, and some of the youngsters he met in Iraq.
"This is my girlfriend," he said, showing a slide of a shy-looking young girl. "I'd go to see her whenever I was in that area. We'd play hide-and-seek or show-and-tell. Those were her two favorite games. Hide-and-seek is hard to play in the desert."
Colonel Gentry, who returned from Iraq in February after more than a year away from his family, gave Field School a few things to remember him by - a small Iraqi flag emblazoned with the words "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and a dusty U.S. flag.
"This is the flag that flew over my FOB. It's kind of torn and frayed," he said, fighting back tears.
Mrs. Van Mooy stepped in for their guest, explaining that FOB stood for forward operating base.
"That's their home. That's where they stay," the principal told the children. "This flag flew over his home in Iraq, and he's brought it back to give to us."
The children gave him a standing ovation.
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