Battleground students (above right to left) Beth Champlin, Tabatha Rogers and Chante Hotchkis hold a banner Kim Rehfussâ€™ fifth grade class created welcoming home Sgt. David Self. Over the past year the students have been receiving emails from Self, who was stationed in Iraq.
Rehfuss shows Self a scrapbook students put together for him, which includes an individual note from each child.
All school year a classroom of Battleground Elementary School students had received e-mails from Iraq about bombings, sandstorms and empty palaces.
On Tuesday afternoon, their personal hero, Sgt. David Self, was about to enter their fifth-grade classroom
â€œHe was right behind us! He was coming through the doors!â€ said Steven Klocke, a student who had just returned from lunch.
When Self finally made it to the classroom all the students stood up and saluted him. They then gave him a round of applause.
â€œIt was quite overwhelming,â€ said Self.
After the students of Kim Rehfussâ€™ class settled down, Self answered all their questions and showed pictures of Iraqi children, men in military uniforms and a soldier holding a bullet that missed him by five inches.
â€œItâ€™s really not a good place,â€ said Self. â€œYou guys are lucky to be here.â€
Students learned that the temperature in Iraq could get up to 140 degrees.
The sandstorms were so bad, he often had to wear a protective mask and goggles to sleep. During his time in Iraq, sleep was scarce.
â€œWe didnâ€™t have many hours to sleep,â€ said Self. â€œIt was mostly work, work, work. Move and rest and move some more.â€
Students saw pictures of the places Self stayed while serving in Iraq. An abandoned palace surrounded by a lake was especially impressive.
They learned that Saddam Husseinâ€™s palaces even had carpets made of American money.
â€œIâ€™d be cutting the money out,â€ said Andrew Byrd, a fifth-grader.
Self didnâ€™t let the students become too mesmerized by images of Saddam Husseinâ€™s wealth.
â€œYou could look on the palace grounds and see how everything was real nice for him,â€ said Self. â€œBut you look over the wall, and you just see poverty.â€
Although they lined up to get his autograph, students didnâ€™t want to switch places with Self. Steven worried he would never be able to sleep.
â€œI would be scared when Iâ€™d go to bed that Iâ€™d get bombed,â€ said Steven. â€œI wouldnâ€™t care if I had to clothespin my eyes open.â€
Other students worried about the heat.
â€œEverything would be too hot for me, and I would probably die of thirst,â€ said Brianda Chairez, a fifth-grader.
All year Rehfuss used Selfâ€™s letters to help educate the class on the situation in Iraq.
Self is the brother of Karen Hurt, a fifth-grade gateway teacher at Battleground.
Hurt didnâ€™t expect her brother to send long emails back to the school.
â€œI was surprised because my brother is really quiet and reserved,â€ she said.
The students replied to Selfâ€™s emails with letters of their own. They also sent him care packages on holidays.
On Christmas, Self received a construction paper Christmas tree with ornaments that had the students pictures.
â€œYour correspondence over there really meant a lot,â€ Self told the class.
Rehfuss believes Self has helped her students understand the war in Iraq.
â€œI donâ€™t think they realize the magnitude of it, but I really think it brings home the patriotism and the pride,â€ Rehfuss said.
Before he left the school, Self gave the class an American flag that had flown in Iraq.
His two sisters were present for the event, and both were glad to have him home.
â€œI knew he would come home safe,â€ said Hurt. â€œIt â€˜s so nice to have him back to Mamaâ€™s for Sunday dinner.â€
Self has finally started settling into civilian life after a year away, but it took him some time.
â€œI tell you what I couldnâ€™t get used to here was the quiet,â€ said Self.
by Sarah Grano