Student-Written Letters from Randle Highlands Offer Support for Troops 


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The students at Randle Highlands Elementary School have never known peace. The oldest students were too young to remember a time when the United States was not at war. Others were born after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.   

Randle Highlands students with family members in the military know the sacrifices of those who serve. Many of those students have also sacrificed – celebrating holidays and life’s milestones while a loved one is overseas. And they know: Little gestures of gratitude can help.

As a way to thank members of the military for their bravery and selflessness, fourth- and fifth-grade students at Randle Highlands sent letters this school year to U.S. military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, recently, the military returned the favor through a letter from Operation Gratitude.

“The troops were excited,” said Michael McLin, dean of students at Randle Highlands. “The students wanted to do something uplifting.”

Operation Gratitude is a California–based nonprofit that seeks to lift morale by sending care packages addressed to individual members of the military deployed in war zones and wounded military in recovery. Randle Highlands wrote more than 25 letters to troops. Those letters were combined with care packages that included snacks, toiletries and items to entertain the servicemen and women who received them.

In the letter to Randle Highlands students, Carolyn Blashek, president of Operation Gratitude, called the care packages “demonstrations of love and concern” and said they offer our troops “a much-deserved respite from the hardship of service, and [are] always greeted with enthusiasm and great appreciation.”

The letter also contained the following note from an unnamed soldier (a private first class):  

"l cannot express to you how great it feels to come home after a long day of running missions to find a care package full of love sitting on your bunk. You are exhausted from wearing 50 plus pounds of armor for hours on end, then you open the package, see all that love, and are rejuvenated and ready to face the world again. It may sound small but it really does help enormously. … You all are the true heroes. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Kristine J. Dunne is an attorney with Arent Fox LLP, the Washington, D.C., law firm that worked with Randle Highlands students in this letter-writing campaign and others over the years. She said Aziz Burgy, an Arent Fox associate who was born in Afghanistan, presented interactive materials to several Randle Highlands classes on Afghanistan’s geography, climate and community, as part of the project.

“The students had a wonderful, educational time and at the same time were able to provide encouragement to troops stationed in Afghanistan,” Dunne said. “This is an example of one of the community service projects that Arent Fox believes is important to engage in for our local community and beyond.”

McLin said the project also helps students – those with family members in the military and those who don’t – better understand war and the impacts that extend beyond battlefield.

“They are seeing the impact of war in society,” he said. “If a student’s father is not here and is at war, it will be a different kind of family.”

McLin said the letter from Operation Gratitude was a boost to students and added that he hopes to continue the letter-writing campaign in the future.

“The letter gave us evidence that it’s a project that needs to be continued as long as the war is going on,” McLin said. “Families are splintered and we’ll be dealing with this for some time.”  

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