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Perham students pick some heroic pen pals

Students from Dan Christenson’s fifth grade class at Prairie Wind Middle School have been writing letters to soldiers who are going through basic training in Texas. Responses from the soldiers are posted on the white board behind them for everyone in the class to read. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

What’s your favorite food?

Do you have any pets?

What’s the scariest thing you’ve done?

Do you miss your family?

These are just a few of the questions that Dan Christenson’s fifth grade class at Prairie Wind Middle School asked their pen pals.

Who are their pen pals? Members of the Air Force flight 665, a group of 46 soldiers going through basic training in Texas.

“I had a nephew go through Army National Guard basic training last fall,” explained Christenson. “He had mentioned how boring Sunday afternoons would become.”

Even on their day off from training, the soldiers had no access to television, computers, or cell phones.

So, last year, Christenson had his students begin writing letters.

“It was extremely well received,” he said.

This school year, he learned that his friend’s son, Brady Dokkebakken, would be going to basic training for the Air National Guard.

Dokkebakken graduated from Barnesville High School and began classes at Concordia College in Moorhead before leaving for basic training.

“I thought it would be cool to again write letters to basic training soldiers; this time, Airmen and women,” said Christenson.

The students in Christenson’s class seem to share that thought.

“I want to know more about them,” said Cian Buehler of the soldiers. “And I want to know about their life.”

“I want to ask if he’s afraid of flying the plane,” Buehler said.

So, in his next letter, he planned to write about his own scary moment – going up in Seattle’s Space Needle even though he is afraid of heights.

Abby Fisette learned that her kitten has the same name as her soldier’s pet chinchilla: Ninja. She said she likes writing the letters because it is a, “nice way for you to meet someone, and it’s nice to know someone is looking out for your country.”

 Kiara Wheelright asked if Clark, her soldier, missed seeing his or her family.

“I said I couldn’t do that,” she said. “I like being home.”

Roark Wood said he plans to ask why his soldier chose to join the Air Force.

Madison Strom had a unique connection to Andrew, the soldier who answered her letter: they both are dancers.

“You love to dance? That’s awesome!,” wrote Andrew. “Before I came into the Air Force, I did musical theatre for about 12 years… The scariest thing I’ve ever done was getting on stage and performing in my first musical as a lead.”

Other bits and stories from some of the soldiers’ letters included:

-“Basic training is a lot like eating dinner. You have all this stuff on your plate but you only like a couple things. The main problem is that Mommy won’t let you leave the table until you finish all your food, even the vegetables!”

-“My job in the Air Force is an Aircraft Loadmaster, which basically means that I make sure that everyone and everything on my plane gets to wherever in the world it needs to go safely.”

-“I do miss my family, but I know that I’m doing the right thing.”

-“I come from a family that has had a lot of service. Both of my grandfathers served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and to continue their legacy of service and dedication is why I serve, and why my brother serves, as well.”

-“I like pizza and burgers with seasoned fries with a vanilla milkshake. Making me hungry just thinking about it.”

-“We also manage our weapons and mentally prepare ourselves for any obstacle we might have to overcome, so that we can protect each other and protect everyone we are fighting for at home.”

-“When I was in elementary school, I played the saxophone in the school band. Musical instruments are a great thing, and I hope that you keep playing the trumpet.”

-“Always keep your head up high and always chase your goal.”

-“I’m just doing my job. It is everyone like yourself who are heroes; people who work hard and love our country.”