By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
BOX ELDER - Four Box Elder classes are learning about the war in Iraq through their pen pal, Montana Army National Guard Sgt. Tim Callahan of Havre. Today, the classes are sending Callahan a care package that they have been assembling for weeks. In it, they have included gifts for him, and toys he can give out to Iraqi children.
Third-grade teacher Joyce Donoven said that when she praised the generosity of one student who brought a large package of beef jerky for Callahan, the student said to her, "My dad said if he was over there, that's what he would have wanted."
The students said they care about the war now that they know someone who is there.
"I learned that to support our troops is a good thing because they are out there for us ... I never really did care, and now I do," fourth- grader Brittany Belgarde said. Belgarde was in Donoven's class last year when the correspondence began.
Callahan was deployed to Iraq last winter. Leaving his farewell party at the Vets Club in Havre, he picked up a few letters written by area students. The ones he took with him were from students in Donoven's class.
He wrote back to Box Elder School from Iraq in March and April and Donoven's class took up the correspondence. When the students returned to school this fall as fourth-graders, they found a package of individually addressed post cards waiting for them.
In his letters, Callahan has said it is important to help the Iraqi children not to be afraid of the American soldiers.
Kali Henry said Callahan had made her see the war in a different way. "I didn't know that he was fighting and helping the Iraqi people. I thought he was fighting against them," she said.
When Belgarde heard her classmate say that, she added, "Oh, me too."
In his letters, Callahan answers the questions of students directly, including questions about the weather in Iraq, and about his life there, as well as his hobbies when he is at home. He told one student that what he misses most are Indian tacos with Dr. Pepper. He also sent pictures of the crane he operates, and helicopters that arrived by boat.
The greatest hardship he described is the fact that he can't eat chocolate.
He wrote to Mariah Deserly, "We can't have too much chocolate over here, it melts and makes a mess."
Henry said she did not know Iraq was so hot.
"I wouldn't have known that it was 120 degrees, because I thought it was like 90 degrees there," she said.
When Callahan wrote to Jacob Burns, he included the message he sent to many of the students, that Burns should stop by Tire-Rama and introduce himself when Callahan returns to work there. Callahan said he has been told he will be back home in March.
To Jonni Bacon, Callahan wrote, "Thank you for caring about the troops, that means a lot to us."
Callahan has promised to visit the whole class when he returns, Donoven said.