Education

Surprised by letters from his Clovis school, Army officer responds with his own surprise

Army officer visits school after being surprised by letter package

U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Austin Bailey was serving in Georgia when a care package of letters written by second-graders arrived, coincidentally from the same school he attended in Clovis.
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U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Austin Bailey was serving in Georgia when a care package of letters written by second-graders arrived, coincidentally from the same school he attended in Clovis.

U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Austin Bailey didn’t expect to open a holiday care package from Blue Star Moms and see something from his hometown: letters written by second-graders at Dry Creek Elementary School in Clovis, where he was once a student.

It was a heartening surprise for the Buchanan High School graduate, who is stationed in the state of Georgia more than 2,000 miles from home.

Bailey, 25, repaid the kindness Thursday, two days after receiving the letters, by showing up in Carrie Anders’ classroom at Dry Creek to share his thanks.

The letters – along with Halloween candy, toiletries and gifts – were given to Blue Star Moms, who shipped the items to active-duty military. Two letters went to Bailey, and two to his roommate. They were opened shortly before Bailey flew home for the holidays.

“It was really heartwarming,” Bailey said of the letters. “It made it feel like what I do, it’s worth it. I’m serving for a reason, for all these little kids to have the opportunity to go to school and do the stuff that they do every day, and make the choices they want to make.”

The Dry Creek students greeted Bailey with applause, a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance, the singing of The Army Song, and a slew of questions. Bailey gave the class American flag patches, and Anders gave Bailey homemade peach jam and a red-white-and-blue Dry Creek hat.

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U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Austin Bailey answers questions from kids in Carrie Anders’ second grade class at Dry Creek Elementary School on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. Lt. Bailey was surprised with a care package delivery from the Blue Star Moms that coincidentally came from the school he went to. After arriving home on leave he decided to visit the class where the care packages came from. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Three of the children whose letters reached Bailey read them aloud. Each began with “Dear Hero.”

Bronwyn Allen, 8, wrote, “I really hope you are safe when you are in war.”

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U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Austin Bailey listens as second graders, from left, Drew Caradine, Dominick Bruno and Bronwyn Allen, take turns reading the letters they wrote to him, in Carrie Anders’ second grade class at Dry Creek Elementary School on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. Lt. Bailey was surprised with a care package delivery from the Blue Star Moms that coincidentally came from the school he went to. After arriving home on leave he decided to visit the class where the care packages came from. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

“You are very brave to be in all of the dangerous wars,” the letter continues. “I think that you must have to be very strong. I hope you know how much we appreciate what you do. I hope you have a merry Christmas!”

The letters were written in Anders’ class for Veterans Day.

“I want them to know a big broader world,” Anders said of her decision to have students write letters, “and just that, even though they’re young, there are things they can do now that can make a difference.”

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CARMEN GEORGE cgeorge@fresnobee.com

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.
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