May 28, 2009
Soldier visits CHS class on way to battlefield
Army sergeant part of unit that has received weekly care packages from Cortland students
Sgt. Ken Warnow, sunburned and wearing a camouflage uniform, stepped into a classroom at Cortland High School and beamed at the students who have been sending weekly care packages to his Army unit in Afghanistan.
Warnow was wrapping up two weeks of leave from Afghanistan on Wednesday and wanted to thank global studies teacher Christine Gregory for her support. The Cicero resident did not expect to meet students as well.
He and his wife, Brenda, had two gifts for Gregory: a huge Afghan blanket and a compact disc of images from his 10th Mountain Division soldiers.
Members of Interact Club, a high school branch of Rotary Club, meet every week in Gregory’s classroom to pack snack food, shaving cream, shampoo, DVDs and other items the soldiers need while living in a desert land. This is the second academic year they’ve been doing this.
“I just want to say thanks,” Warnow said to the 15 students, who sat at desks and studied him. “I have 12 people under me, but 40 people I give your boxes to. We still have four soldiers who don’t get anything from their families. They really appreciate it.”
Warnow, 35, did his best to describe life at his forward operating base, or FOB, to the students. He is in charge of a motor pool at the base, which is near the Pakistan border, in the Korengal Valley.
Temperatures can reach 135 degrees, he said, and the land is beautiful but treacherous, dry and all rock, with the ever-present danger of an attack by Taliban military.
Warnow said the roads are made of rock, perfect for explosive devices to be planted by Taliban, so the Army is trying to pave them.
Brenda Warnow said her husband left before Christmas — “five days before, let me tell you” — and had spent his leave not just in Central New York but visiting relatives in his native Kansas and her native South Carolina with her.
Ken Warnow was to fly today from Syracuse to Atlanta, then Ireland, then Kuwait and back to Afghanistan.
A TV screen showed the images on the CD he had brought, of the soldiers and the base where they live.
He said the students’ boxes are anticipated and easily recognized by his soldiers, since the students use apple boxes.
“There will be probably three boxes sitting on my bed, waiting to be opened, when I get back,” Warnow said. “The company mail person brings them, then officers have to be there when the boxes are opened, to make sure there is no alcohol or anything else the soldiers can’t have.”
He said alcohol is forbidden in a Muslim country, plus it would dehydrate soldiers.
“It’s cool to meet him,” said senior Cody Smith, who will be part of the Army ROTC at the University of Rochester this fall. He spoke for a few minutes with Warnow about military career options.
Senior Nadine Khazzaka said it was nice to put a person with the names on the notes the students have been writing and the digital images the soldiers have been sending via e-mail, some of which are displayed in the hallway.
“It’s kind of cool to think this is the person we’ve been sending all this stuff to,” she said. “It’s nice to have it be someone from the community.”
Brenda Warnow is a guidance counselor at Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES.
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