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First Posted: 1/5/2009

Two second-grade classes had the experience of a lifetime Monday morning when they were finally able to meet the soldier they have been sending letters to since September.
Sgt. Art Gordon of the U.S. Air Force visited B.H. Tharrington Primary School to thank the students in person for brightening his year-long tour in Iraq. He shipped out to Baghdad in December 2007 from Greenville, S.C., and has spent the past year there, returning only for a brief visit with his family in July.
Crystal McCraw, a high school friend of Gordons and second-grade teacher at Tharrington Primary, knew he had been deployed and wanted to do something for him. She and her husband came up with the idea of sending him letters, and McCraw decided to involve students from her class in the project. Lisa York, another second-grade teacher, was also excited about the idea and opened up the option for her students.
I just kept thinking about it. Theres got to be something we can do, said McCraw. I mentioned it to the parents and kids at open house, and we just started writing. They have been so exited.
Starting in September, students in the two classes wrote letters which York and McCraw collected and mailed to Baghdad. Gordon, after receiving a packet, would e-mail the teachers a response. The teachers would display the e-mails on the SmartBoard so the students could read his reply and know that he had received the letters.
To show his appreciate for their efforts, Gordon presented Tharrington Primary with an American flag, which was flown in the schools honor over the headquarters of the Multi-National Corps in Iraq.
You dont know what receiving mail does. I collect the mail and to see my name just brought a great big smile to my face. You guys do good work, he told the students. You can do anything you set your minds to.
That just makes it so special to think that the flag flew there, said McCraw of the gift.
You can affect and you can change the world with the things you do. Its because of your work this has been presented to Tharrington, Principal Lydia Lovell told the students.
Gordon is in aviation maintenance management when stationed in Greenville. In Baghdad, however, he became a jack of all trades, otherwise known as an operations officer. In that position, he had to keep track of about 132 people in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.
He originally entered the Air Force thinking he would stay in for four years and then move on, taking with him the experience required by so many positions. He had always wanted to be an airplane mechanic and the Air Force would provide the necessary training.
I wouldnt get out now for anything, he said, noting that he has traveled around the world and had the opportunity to see many countries, some good and some not so good.
The experience was not only a valuable one for Gordon but for the students as well who were able to meet someone who has fought for the freedom American citizens enjoy.
They learned some things. I believe so much in education and what it can do. We focus so much on testing now, but to me this is what education is about. This is an authentic experience, and its a relative thing. They can see the benefits of having that education, said Lovell. To have someone come in and validate when they finally make the connection that this is what its all about. Its the ability to communicate with other people. Hopefully something they will continue to want to do.
Hopefully theyll say, Im important because people are giving their lives for me, added McCraw.
Gordon will be moving with his family to New Mexico over the summer, an assignment he is not excited about but will go anyway because it is his duty.
I love my job. I wouldnt trade any experience for anything in the world, he said.
Contact Morgan Wall at [email protected] or 719-1929.

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