By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Some of the Havre students who pitched in to write letters and send treats to sailors on the USS Abraham Lincoln during the war in Iraq were thanked in person Wednesday.
After spending more than nine months on board the aircraft carrier, much of it in the Persian Gulf, Petty Officer 3rd Class Jody Corner arrived back in Havre last week for a three-week vacation.
Corner, who graduated from Havre High School in 2001, visited five different classes at Sunnyside Intermediate School on Wednesday afternoon. Dressed in her camouflage fatigues, Corner told about her life and travels in the Navy and answered students' questions.
She was to visit one more class this afternoon.
Corner helps launch, service and inspect jets. The jets she works on, Prowlers, are used primarily to jam enemy radar.
"I'm not a pilot," Corner told one fifth-grade class. "I'm in charge of keeping four people alive, and I'm also in charge of a $63 million aircraft."
The students were duly impressed. Her discussion of the size of the aircraft carrier also drew oohs and ahs. But there was no contest as to what captured their imaginations most about her voyage: Corner saw dolphins and killer whales.
She pointed out on the map her travels, which have taken her to Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Bahrain and the Persian Gulf in the last year.
The students were generally interested in the lighter side of life in the military.
Corner told them sailors eat cafeteria food just like the students.
She said sailors enjoy "steel beach picnics" on the flight deck of the carrier, complete with kiddie pools. When they're not working 12- to 14-hour days, they sometimes relax at concerts and with games of Frisbee.
"The only thing I didn't like about being on the boat is you have no privacy," Corner said.
"I share my room with 210 girls. It's a pretty big room."
The conversation occasionally touched on more serious issues as well.
"So you kind of decided to raid the towns?" asked fifth-grader Nathan Howard, 11. Howard is in Marilyn Granell's fifth-grade class.
"We don't really look at it that way," Corner said. "We're trying to help the people as much as we can."
"The night they started firing the Tomahawk missiles we could see them launch," Corner told another class.
"Did you get to shoot guns?" asked one student in Charlys Doucette's fourth-grade class.
"We got to shoot guns in boot camp," Corner said.
"Were there people you didn't like?" asked another student in the class.
"You have to be careful with who you like and who you don't like because sometimes that person you don't like can save your life."
"We had no one on our boat get hurt or die," Corner told Vicky Michels' fourth-grade class.
One sailor did get blown off the boat by the turbulence created by a jet and was in the water for 15 minutes before being retrieved, Corner said. "It's really far down," she told the class, which bought jelly beans for the care packages that were sent to the aircraft carrier.
Corner's grandmother, Jean Smith, organized the effort to assemble hundreds of care packages for sailors on the ship.
Granell's class wrote letters for the packages sent from Havre to the USS Abraham Lincoln, as well as to two soldiers in Kuwait and Germany.
Between classes, Corner said the most important thing she hoped to convey to the students was "a really big thank you for their patriotism and just to keep their options open."
"I like the questions they ask," she added. "They're funny."
Granell, who had Corner as a student about 10 years ago, said she had contacted Corner by e-mail as soon as the ship was headed home. The students e-mailed back and forth with Corner, who also sent pictures of the ship with her messages.
Corner asked to come in and visit with the students.
"My class was just anticipating all day long. They were really, really looking forward to it," Granell said.
Granell said Corner's discussion of enduring the yelling of drill sergeants at boot camp was good for the kids. Corner told them the purpose was not to be mean, but to teach the cadets respect.
"I teach respect school every Thursday - I need her to come," Granell said. "What she said is you need to respect everyone, and that's what we're trying to teach."
Corner still plans to talk to classes at the middle school and to high school students who have expressed interest in going into the Navy.
She goes back to Washington state on May 27, where she will be for about six months before she sees the ship again. She said she probably will not be at sea again for about a year.
For now, Corner said she is soaking in her vacation time, and being back in her hometown.
"I haven't seen home since last July. It's still the same old town. It's wonderful to be home."
She loved seeing the yellow ribbons and soldiers' names in downtown store windows.
"The biggest thing for me is that I cannot believe how fast and how much this town came alive - the ribbons."