A Valentine's Day Kickoff-
A Valentineâs Day Kickoffâ
Students At Reed Hear Of One Local Soldierâs Experience In Afghanistan
By Eliza Hallabeck
Many around the world celebrate Valentineâs Day, but students at Reed Intermediate School started their celebration early this year when they kicked off the St Valentineâs Day Letter Project with a visit and assembly by Newtown resident Command Sergeant Major Arthur Fredericks.
The assembly on Monday, January 5, was the first schoolwide assembly to be held at Reed Intermediate School for the St Valentineâs Day Letter Project, because this is the first year the school is involved with writing letters to troops overseas. Sgt Major Fredericks has previously been involved with the project when it was happening at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This year, along with Reed Intermediate and Sandy Hook School, the project will also be happening at Newtown Middle School.
A number of students at the assembly had been students at Sandy Hook School when the project had its start. In 2007 students at Sandy Hook School wrote letters to service personnel in Sgt Major Fredericksâ unit.
âIâd like to thank you all first-hand,â said Sgt Major Fredericks as an opening to his presentation regarding the letters students from Sandy Hook School had written.
Assistant Principal Anthony Salvatore began the assembly by welcoming Sgt Major Fredericks to the school.
âWe have a wonderful opportunity to support the women and men who are fighting around the world this morning,â said Dr Salvatore to the students seated in the schoolâs cafetorium.
Â St Valentineâs Day Letter Project chairperson Donna Monteleone Randle spoke after Dr Salvatore and gave a brief summary of the history of the program for the students.
âI want to tell you a little story about what happened to me a few years ago in Newtown,â said Ms Randle.
She spoke about two of her children, twins, who had been attending Sandy Hook Elementary. One of their teachers suggested writing letters to troops overseas, and from there the project began.
Each consecutive year the project grew, according to Ms Randle. This year, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) recognized the projectâs success by asking a few clusters from Reed to write holiday letters to troops in coordination with WWEâs Tribute To The Troops holiday television special.
Now the students who contributed letters to WWEâs âTribute To The Troops Tourâ will be writing letters again for the St Valentineâs Day Project.
Connected To Home
According to the introduction for the assembly, when the unit returned, Sgt Major Fredericks sent Sandy Hook School Principal Donna PagÃ© a plaque in appreciation for the letters written by the students. Ms Randle also said Sgt Major Fredericks gave a presentation at Sandy Hook School previously.
âThe letters are very rewarding and they keep us all connected to home,â said Sgt Major Fredericks during his presentation. He also added that he hopes the students continue to write letters, because he will be sending a number of his soldiers back next year.
During the presentation Sgt Major Fredericks showed photographs that were taken during his last tour of Afghanistan.
âThe support we get from home is very important,â Sgt Major Fredericks said.
Photographs that he showed to the students included images of the terrain in Afghanistan, some of his soldiers, and members of the Afghanistan Boarder Patrol.
âThese are some of the children there,â said Sgt Major Fredericks about one photograph. He said many of the missions while there were interacting with the public.
Sgt Major Fredericks said the children started to learn one of his soldiers by name, because they loved seeing him. Another image he showed to the students had Afghanistan children lining up to receive gifts from the soldiers. He said the children had to line up orderly to get their gift.
âA very small percent of what we do in Afghanistan is combat or conflict,â said Sgt Major Fredericks.
Another image Sgt Major Fredericks shared with the students was a photograph of a gun set up at an Afghanistan security check point to help secure the firebase of which Sgt Major Fredericks was in charge. It worked only as a deterrent, because, he said, it probably had not been usable for 50 years.
During his 365 days in Afghanistan with the Connecticut National Guard, Sgt Major Fredericks was in charge of looking after the firebase and four platoons, totaling 140 soldiers. They conducted more than 1,800 patrols as well as 60 joint force operations with Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Afghan forces.
In September 2007 he was promoted to Command Sgt Major with the First Battalion 102 Infantry (Mountain Division). According to the his introduction at the assembly, he is the youngest person in the state of to be promoted to this rank.
Time For Questions
At the end of the presentation students were able to ask Sgt Major Fredericks questions. Some of the questions were, âHave you ever gotten shot?â âWas your fire base ever fired on?â âIs it hard to miss your family?â
âThe hardest part for me personally, from my experiences, was missing my family,â said Sgt Major Fredericks. He also added that he had never been shot, but his vehicle was. The firebase was never fired on, because, he said, there was a very good defensive plan.
Both Sgt Major Fredericks and his wife, Saskia Fredericks, are graduates of Newtown High School. After graduating NHS in 1988 he joined the active army at the age of 17.
Saskia Fredericks, who was at the event, said it was the first time she has seen her husband speak for the St Valentineâs Day Project.
âItâs something that supports community,â said Ms Fredericks. âNo matter where we are, and it helps kids think about whatâs going on outside of their immediate environment.â
Ms Randle said Reed Intermediate School Principal Donna Denniston has recently received an e-mail from a school in Stamford regarding the St Valentineâs Day Project.
âNothing would make me happier than to have other school districts follow our example,â said Ms Randle.
Along with Ms Randle, Anna Wiedemann, a Board of Education member who is also in charge of the Valentineâs Day Project at NMS, First Selectman Joe Borst, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, and members of Arthur Fredericksâ family were present at the school for the assembly.
First Selectman Borst, a veteran of World War II, said letters were written on thin tissue paper when he was serving. He said the technology and capability for communication now is much broader.
First Selectman Borst said the presentation was well organized, and, âIt gives [students] a better understanding of living in a democracy.â
Reed Intermediate School student Hannah Makris said she knows she will be writing her letter to a friend of her family who is serving overseas.
âI really like this because my grandfather was in the war,â said Hannah. âAnd his friendâs son is going into war now.â
Hannah said she told her teacher about this when she learned the St Valentineâs Day Letter Project would be happening at Reed. Hannah also said she was one of the students who wrote letters to the troops while she was attending Sandy Hook School.
During the closing for the presentation, Assistant Principal Anthony Salvatore said the school appreciated Sgt Major Frederickâs coming to the school.
âWe can help in some small way to help men and women servingâ¦ know that we support and care,â said Dr Salvatore.
To see coverage of the presentation as covered by News Channel 8 go to wtnh.com and search for âValentines For Troops.â