A soldier’s visit
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
"He was my teacher," Velez said.
So 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 to enlist."
Fabbricatore suggested he think it over, and Velez said he did.
"And 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
Velez 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
Velez 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.
Along 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.
Student Andrew Mernar said later that his letter had included information about who he was.
"I 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 similar theme.
"I told them what my interests were and thanked them for being there," O'Brian said. "I wanted to show my support."
Carnellina 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.
Lindsey Rusnak shared with the soldiers in her letter what she enjoyed doing here at home.
"I thanked them for serving," she said. "I wrote because I wanted them to know how thankful I was for what they were doing."
Bridget Ward - daughter of Anthony - said she wrote letters in order to show her support and because she believed in what her family was doing.
Her 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.