Airmen overseas, Panhandle students take turn as pen pals

BERKELEY SPRINGS — It was a challenge readily embraced by fifth-graders here. Their mission? Correspond with troops deployed overseas.

Back at a Veterans Day event at the American Legion in Berkeley Springs, a nurse assigned to the West Virginia Air National Guard’s 167th Airlift Wing urged those in attendance to write to soldiers unable to come home for the holidays.

“I had purchased supplies for the folks to write, ensuring them the letters would be delivered,” said Capt. Carmela Emerson.

Emerson’s own granddaughter, Kelis, suggested her class at Warm Springs Intermediate School in Berkeley Springs also could write letters. Kelis’s fifth-grade teacher, Natalie Smith, agreed and made the undertaking a class project.

Emerson came to the class to give a presentation about her work as a flight nurse. After the talk, she and Kelis passed out the stationery and the students went to work.

After collecting students’ letters, Emerson sent them to Tech Sgt. Timothy Hageny, an Airman assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing’s Logistics Readiness Squadron, who was serving a six-month tour in Afghanistan.

“He enthusiastically embraced the idea to distribute the letters,” Emerson said. Hageny and follow airmen returned the favor, writing back to the Warm Springs students.

The children were ecstatic to get letters from the troops overseas. “I wish the troops could have seen their faces,” Emerson said.

Emerson commended Hageny. “His teamwork and professionalism should be recognized,” said Emerson, adding she also appreciated the efforts of Master Sgt. Jody Miller and Tech Sgt. Alan Cavanagh, who volunteered to help Hageny with writing back.

“The kids should also be commended for keeping the troops close to their hearts,” she said.

— Staff Sgt. Sherree Grebenstein is a public affairs specialist with the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard in Martinsburg.

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