Special to the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune
Sgt. Mike Fry, a member of the National Guard, is stationed in Afghanistan with the Task Force 168. He was deployed in August 2003. He is the physical education teacher at the Aurelia Schools and has served in several coaching capacities.
Early this January - while most students were on Christmas break - a combined effort between civilian (students, faculty, community members from Aurelia) and local soldiers stationed overseas in Kandahar, Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, provided some local Afghani school children and an "adopted" family gifts to assist in improving everyday living conditions and as a gesture of good will. These gifts served as a reminder that Americans are here not only to fight terrorism, but to assist local Afghan civilians in rebuilding their country and to become an independent nation with the ability to stand on its own.
Normally, the soldiers from Task Force 168 (comprised of members from the Iowa National Guard) stationed at the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kandahar, Afghanistan conduct force protection, providing security for base and convoy operations and civil affairs personnel during the process of reconstruction projects throughout all of Afghanistan. Today, they conducted a secondary mission with the cooperation of Major Lindel Williams, a member of the Regional Development and Zone (RDZ) team of CJ9 Task Force 76, allowing the Iowa soldiers the opportunity to fulfill a campaign started by many students and members of the Aurelia community thousands of miles away. "I love the looks on the children's faces...it is why we do what we do....the hope" said Major Williams, relaying the reasoning as to why he became a supporter or the team mission. That mission, consisted of a fund raiser (penny campaign) led by the Aurelia school and was designed to raise money to allow students to purchase gifts to send overseas to children their own age as a gesture of good will between local citizens of two different worlds.
In particular, many of the gifts were sent with the prior knowledge that their local Physical Education teacher/coach, Staff Sergeant Michael Fry, would be supplying to an "adopted" family, making them "extended" Aurelia community members. However, the mission expanded further when Sergeant First Class Matthew Tipling (1/168 Infantry, Iowa City) and Specialist Patrick Hoyt (109th Medical Battalion, Iowa City) added more presents and supplies allowing the soldiers to conduct humanitarian and educational assistance to two local schools (one of which was an all girl elementary school).
When school started this year, students from Aurelia were faced with the knowledge that one of their teachers, and many others from around the area for that matter, would be gone serving in an unfamiliar land. That is when Kim Vint, a middle school teacher in Aurelia, decided to make what might be a bad situation, a good one, by doing what she does best, teaching. She allowed the kids, through the use of the Aurelia Middle School Student Council, the opportunity to "do something" from home. And all they needed was support, which came at the hands of many soldiers from all over Iowa (the makeup of the squad conducting the final touches of the mission).
"We had guys from all over be a part in this," stated Fry. Those "guys" were SGT Brian Maxon, SPC Joe Johnston, and SPC Ben Sawyer, all members of the 1/194 Field Artillery, and from neighboring towns (Storm Lake, Spencer, and Fort Dodge). To farther members, like SPC Robby Jones and SPC Eric Mahlstedt (1/133 Infantry, Charles City) and SSG Martin Irving (1/113 Calvary, Lemars/Camp Dodge).
"To me, it was an honor to have the opportunity to be a part of this," said Johnston.
"In an environment where you are trained to expect and sometimes experience the unexpected, the mission went off as a great success," said Fry, "the most important thing everyone got was the feeling of having done something good for the people here and we got to experience the unsuspecting faces of many Afghani children whose faces shined with looks only similar to what we would associated as Christmas faces." In fact, the headmaster at the local girls elementary school said it best when talking to the group, "What you did here today is very good."
To finish the mission, SPC Jones and SSG Fry met with the "adopted" family who resides just outside the gates of the PRT to finish the distribution of gifts from Aurelia. In this family there are 13 children (eight boys, five girls). One of the boys - Johnny - works as a cook with the soldiers in the PRT. Johnny and the children who were home at the time - as Afghanistan had a holiday during this time - came out and posed for pictures. And the final words, from Johnny and his brother (posing in an Aurelia Bulldog t-shirt) said it all, "Thank you."