Dressed in his camouflage uniform and
his tilted black beret, Army Specialist Josh Velez stood in front of the gym as
the students of
The silence in the room was profound, as if each
student could see in his or her mind's eye the life-and-death struggle in which
Americans are engaged in places like
Velez had come to
the prayer was over, Velez, a resident of
was my teacher," Velez said.
when Velez, currently 19 years old, thought about enlisting in the Army, he
sought out Fabbricatore. "Two years ago, I started talking to him about
doing something for my country," said Velez. "I told him I was going
suggested he think it over, and Velez said he did.
on my 17th birthday, I went to the nearest recruiter and I told them I wanted
to be a soldier," he said.
who is a reservist attached to the 436th Movement Control Battalion stationed
at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island, compared himself to a United Parcel Service
driver, and said his job required him to deliver materials to other military
units throughout the world. This included deliveries to
overseas - even in war zones - perform a variety of duties, but also tend to
take on programs to help the victims of the conflict. His battalion, in
conjunction with other movement control teams stationed in
to the United States Army report, soldiers patrolling an area of the
said his unit came across about 70 kids and began to give them some things to
make life better. "We wound up adopting those kids," Velez said.
commanders of several units decided to set up a committee to find out what
local kids needed and to seek out resources back in the
with local officials, army personnel paid visits to a local school to
distribute items that included Crayons, markers, coloring books, school glue,
pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks, pencil-sharpeners, folders, post-it notes,
construction paper and candy. Outside the school, the Iraqi children gathered
around the troops, seeking to touch the soldiers or hold their hands and
repeatedly asking them their names. Since then, the program has been expanded
to include assistance to a local clinic and partnership-in-education programs,
designed to foster pen-pal type relationships to promote cultural awareness
across Iraqi/American borders. The bulk of this program was supported through
the efforts of Velez's unit in
said support from home is critical to the soldiers overseas as well, and that
letters from home meant a great deal to those on the front lines.
with the various small items sent to the troops, each package carries the voice
of home in a letter from some civilian seeking to cheer up those so far away.
Most of the students assembled in the gym raised their hands when Ward asked
how many had written letters.
Andrew Mernar said later that his letter had included information about who he
thanked them for fighting for our country," he said. "I wanted to
know that we here supported the troops." Mallory O'Brian's letter had a
told them what my interests were and thanked them for being there,"
O'Brian said. "I wanted to show my support."
Gagliardi also talked about herself in her letter, thanking the troops for
helping the country. "I told them I was proud of what they were
doing," she said.
Rusnak shared with the soldiers in her letter what she enjoyed doing here at
thanked them for serving," she said. "I wrote because I wanted them
to know how thankful I was for what they were doing."
Ward - daughter of Anthony - said she wrote letters in order to show her
support and because she believed in what her family was doing.
father said others who want to be involved in the letter-writing effort or to
sponsor boxes going to the troops can call (201) 858-4338 or (201) 858-9273.