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Murray Journal

Riverview students send special cards to soldiers overseas

Aug 01, 2019 09:30AM ● By Julie Slama

Derrick Pili, who worked on Black Hawk helicopters as an air frame structural repairer in Kuwait and Iraq, came to Riverview Junior High to thank students for making and sending holiday cards. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Thompson)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Shortly before school was over for the year, Derrick Pili returned to his former junior high, recognizing the same hallways and classrooms where he once studied. He even saw his former science teacher, the same one his daughter had.

It wasn’t a reunion, but a chance to thank strangers — Riverview Junior High students — who completed their class assignment by making a card on the computer and including it in a box that was mailed overseas to soldiers for the holidays.

“I was so grateful for the cards they sent,” Pili said. “For me, it makes it easier to receive things from home, but it’s never easy to be gone for a long time. I missed my family, seeing the kids grow up, spending time with them. Getting cards, letters and care packages definitely helped me.”

Pili, who serves in the National Guard, spent the past year away from his family in Murray. First, he was in Fort Hood, Texas for training and to learn how to work on Black Hawk helicopters as an air frame structural repairer. Then, after three months, he was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.

“It was all flat land, desert there. I definitely missed the mountains,” he said, about leaving Utah for so long. “I’ve been hiking a couple times with the kids, had a campfire up there, planning some fishing.”

Pili was one of the recipients of the cards made by keyboarding students in applied technology teacher Patti McConnell’s class.

“I had them make a card in Microsoft Word as an assignment, but I wanted it to mean something to them,” McConnell said about the early December assignment. “I’ve had students do cards before, but not like this. I have a neighbor, Evan Ahlborn, who is a helicopter pilot and was serving over there. I arranged with him to send the cards and he would distribute them.”

There were 40 cards created by her students.

“Many of them wished the soldiers ‘Merry Christmas,’ had holiday scenes or thanked them for serving. They were upbeat, positive, funny and were designed to make them feel good,” she said.

McConnell added some stocking caps she made along with chocolate and sent the box overseas, which arrived between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Once it arrived, Ahlborn kept his promise, delivering the students cards to other soldiers, including to Pili, eighth-grader Alexis’ Thompson’s dad.

“Alexis had told Mrs. McConnell I was there and so I had met her neighbor a couple times. It felt great to be thanked for what we were doing and helped me a lot that time of year,” he said.

But the story doesn’t end there. McConnell invited the two soldiers to her class to share with them what happened once the cards arrived overseas. While her neighbor couldn’t make it, Pili came and shared about his job and how significant receiving the cards from home meant.

For McConnell, it was a lesson above a Microsoft Word assignment.

“I wanted the students to understand how impactful it was, to give back to those who are serving them. They don’t always see the result, but now they can know what happens and how important it is,” she said.

For seventh-grader Kaylee Smith, it was valuable.

“In my card, I wrote ‘thank you for risking your life and serving our country,’” she said. “My next-door neighbor is a mechanic in the army, so I can see how it affects his life and his family. I knew these cards would be appreciated, but it was really helpful for him to come, take the time and tell us what it meant. It made me feel as if we did something super important.”