May 16, 2008
Military donations a huge help
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
U.S. Army specialist David Wetherell, a 2003 Cortland High graduate, greets Virgil Elementary students, from left, Bryce Haines, Angelo Bervetti and Alex Meyers during his visit to the school on Tuesday.
Cortland High senior Rachel Gordon has been looking for a way to support the troops overseas, so when her Rotary Interact group at the school came up with a project to help, she “jumped on it.”
“I know someone who recently was sent overseas. I have been wanting to do something for a while. This opportunity presented itself … It’s what my heart wanted to do,” she said.
Rachel is the head of a committee overseeing a project to send out care packages every week to servicemen in Iraq. She and fellow members of the club, a junior Rotary Club which stands for International Action, participate in service projects here and abroad, and were at Virgil Elementary School Tuesday.
Specialist David Wetherell, an infantryman in the U.S. Army serving in Iraq, visited the school to collect its donations. And on Wednesday, he was in Shannon King’s eighth grade history classes, explaining his role in the war.
Wetherell, a 2003 Cortland High graduate, is home on a mid tour leave, having served in Camp Liberty in Baghdad for the past six months. He’ll return on Monday for another 10 months. He’s been in the Army for three plus years, serving from the Scofield Barrack in Hawaii.
“At this time, my mission is to train the Iraqi army,” Wetherell said. He’s a member of the 25th Infantry Division in the 2nd Striker Brigade Combat Team.
“Every year, our kids run a lollypop sale at Valentine’s Day,” said Kathy Reynolds, speech pathologist for the district and a student council advisor at Virgil Elementary. “Gourmet lollypops are delivered to friends and family and the proceeds are used for some kind of community service project. This year, the kids decided they wanted to do something to help the soldiers,” she said.
Christine Gregory, a history teacher and advisor for Interact, asked for donations for the troops. The Virgil children decided to help.
With $120 proceeds, Reynolds and two sixth graders on the student council, Morgan Larkin and Jordan Smith, went shopping for items the troops would need: DVDS, socks, snacks, shaving items, hand sanitizer. Then family members and staff with the school added in their donations. Bags lined the gym floor for Wetherell to take back.
“I think that we did something pretty good,” said Jordan. Morgan, 12, agreed. “I know my uncle, he’s going to be there in a few months. It felt good to help the soldiers, and I know it will help him.”
“Thank you all,” Wetherell told the assembled school. “It helps us a lot, makes us feel people back here still care. About 200 soldiers are affected by these gifts you give us,” he said.
The next day, King had Wetherell talk about his experiences in Iraq to her eighth grade class, which has studied World War I and II and the effort at home to support the troops.
“It’s important for them to know we have a war going on and we have American soldiers doing their civic duty for us and they need to be remembered,” she said.
Her kids also provided donations and letters to the troops.
Wetherell said he has not regretted joining the Army. “The Army is a lot of fun. It is what you make it,” he said.
In Iraq, much of the fighting by militant groups is in Sadhr City, a suburb of Baghdad, Wetherell said.
One youth wanted to know if war is all killing and fighting or is it not as bad as the media makes it out to be.
“It’s not all that bad. You can go months without seeing any fighting. It’s very random,” he said. For him it’s about finding Improvised Explosive Devices, going on patrols and trying to build a rapport with the people. He said they find out Iraqi needs, such as irrigation for farmers, and try to provide the help in exchange for information. They also go on raids, looking for people wanted by the military. He was proud to say his unit found the American soldier missing in Iraq for four years, in Abu Gharib. “That was pretty cool.”
He enjoys video games in the pool hall established on the base. Some days he gets to sleep in. Other days he can see a half hour of sleep at night.
The people are hospitable, bringing soldiers food and Chai tea. His favorite food is goat. “Iraqi food is delicious.”
Wetherell said he has a good rapport with the Iraqi soldiers he trains. “A lot of them like us.”
He does feel like the U.S. military is making progress.
“Why are we there and what are we supposed to get out of it,” one child asked.
“Pretty much how I see it, we are there to train the Iraqi army so they can take over their own country.”
Asked about friends killed, he told the kids he wears a bracelet with four names of men they have lost.
“Six more got wounded in that attack. A couple weeks later they hit another IED, that wounded three others.”
One person is in critical condition, another lost an eye and the third lost a leg. IEDS are placed by extremists on the side of the road, in dead carcasses, made to look like stones and worn by those who die by suicide.
One student wanted to know what would happen if the military pulls out under a new president?
“My feeling, if they pull out now, if it gets better, cool. But if it doesn’t, everything we have done since the invasion, since 9/11, is (for nothing).”
Jeremy Rosario, 15, enjoyed the pictures Wetherell showed. “It’s pretty good to see that they are doing well,” he said.
Courtney Grant, 15, who has an uncle serving in the Scofield Barrack, was excited that Wetherell knew her uncle. “They are like the same,” she said of the two men.
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