Students and media learn from Greencastle soldier

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot
Army National Guard member Emily Seidel hugged members of the classroom that have been corresponding with her during her deployment.

Students who had been talking to Spc. Emily Seidel all year through Skype, an Internet telephone and video service, met her face to face Monday. The Greencastle resident and American soldier visited Greencastle-Antrim Middle School to talk about her service in Afghanistan. She is home on a two-week leave and spent one day going back to school.

Tanya Forrester's anchor class in essence "adopted" Emily when she was deployed over the summer. Her mother, Marcie Seidel, is an instructional assistant in the room.

"We are like a family," said Forrester. "So when Emily left, we wanted to be happy, sad or scared with Marcie. The kids jumped right in with letters."

The 22 students also collected and mailed a large quantity of personal care items, socks, puzzles and other useful things to Emily's unit in the fall. She in turn sent them postcards and crafted items from the local people.

The classmates already knew some details about life in the Army for the intelligence analyst, but they still had more questions.

One girl said she liked Skype because, "We can see you in your own environment."

The students asked about the food, currency, climate and whether the natives had access to dentists. They wondered if Emily had ever wanted to quit.

"No," she replied. "I miss my family every day, but as we say in the Army, 'It is what it is.'"

The youngsters started another service project, since Emily had alerted them to the needs of children in Afghanistan through their Skype talks. They created Kids Helping Kids, and opened up the project to the entire school. For several weeks, they will be collecting new socks, gently worn shoes up to size 6 youth, unscented lotion, winter caps and mittens. They have posted signs around the school.

"You are going to make such a difference," said Emily. "And we so enjoyed everything you sent the soldiers."

When the period ended, each child hugged her.

Forrester commented of the visit, "It's a personal connection about things they'd otherwise know nothing about. They were so excited she was coming. They're very attached to her."

In the news

Through a series of events, the national media became aware of Emily's guest appearance. NBC Nightly News sent Stephanie Himango from Chicago and cameraman Jim Long from Washington D.C. to cover her visits with Rich Richardson's seventh-grade social studies classes. His classroom is adjacent to Forrester's, and Marcie Seidel had extended the invitation to participate.

Himango said she had been following Iowa National Guard's 234th Brigade, which Emily attached to when she volunteered to go overseas.

"The Nightly News saw this as a good opportunity for young people to see what's going on here and in Afghanistan," Himango said.

She flew in to Baltimore Sunday evening and lodged in Hagerstown. Long drove from home to join her at the school by 7 a.m. Monday.

They filmed several sessions, as did the tri-state NBC affiliate. Both pulled aside students to interview personally. Richardson, Forrester and the pupils learned how to ignore the TV crews and press as they concentrated on Emily's presentation on life in the Middle East, both for the military and for the citizens.

"I want you to be connected to current events," she said of her offer to teach for a day.

She introduced them to one aspect of the culinary culture, the flatbread Naan, and Chai tea. The tea was not popular by any means.

Richardson said the experience with Emily resonated immediately with his students.

"She is an alumnus. Her record of service to our country, and giving back during her vacation, hopefully will influence them," he said. He added that her real life experiences would be more meaningful to them than anything he could say.

While the rest of the middle school operated normally, principal Mark Herman said the day for the one team of seventh graders was valuable on many fronts. They met someone who had once sat in their desks, learned about the value of conviction and serving the United States, and witnessed the role of the media in disseminating information.

"How cool is that for kids?" he pondered. "The take-aways (of today) are incredible."

NBC news producer Stephanie Himango interviewed Madison Wineriter, 12, about her impressions of Spc. Emily Seidel’s lesson on Afghanistan. The network will notify middle school principal Mark Herman when the air date is set.