Iraq veteran shows his appreciation

A Sergeant Major who spent the last 13 months training the Iraqi National Police came to USF on Thursday after returning from war to personally thank a class of English students who wrote letters to him and his fellow soldiers.

Sergeant Major David Eason not only came to meet and thank the students, but also presented USF with a flag to be flown at the new CW Bill Young Hall, home of the Joint Military Leadership Center. The event, held in a first-floor classroom of the Social Sciences Building, attracted two local news stations, students, administrators, ROTC members and onlookers.

Eason, a student and member of the 2nd National Police Division Transition Team, came to thank were members of Professor Marian Conklin’s fall 2007 composition class. Conklin said the final project in her composition class every spring is to make a proposed solution to a social injustice.

“One social issue that really bothers me, having come of age during the Vietnam War, is that people cannot always separate their feelings about war from their attitudes towards the members of the military whose job it is to wage war,” she said.

Conklin felt compelled to do something for the people who serve in Iraq, which led her to Soldiers’ Angels, an organization that supports troops overseas. She joined its letter-writing team, whose objective is to write a letter each week to a different soldier.

“SGM Michael Eason replied to my query about how I could help by stating that the only thing his men needed was contact from home,” Conklin said. “The commissary which sold phone cards was an hour away, and they could not risk any trips beyond their daily missions.”

Conklin arranged to send phone cards to his team, but said what she gained from the transaction was perhaps even more valuable: a sense of what life is like for U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.

She decided to create a project for her fall composition students designed around writing to the troops.

“Writing letters to soldiers overseas seemed to not only fulfill the assignment criteria in a creative manner but also to encourage informal writing as an act of humanity,” she said.Conklin mailed the final printed letters to Eason, who distributed the letters to his 12-man team. Each student who wrote received a handwritten letter. Conklin scanned the replies and discovered that they were not form letters but real responses, which encouraged students to continue their correspondence, she said. The responses were a complete surprise.

“The students’ overall reactions mirrored my own – a mixture of astonishment and gratitude that these men had taken time to do this, as well as a sense of our troops as individuals rather than a political unit,” she said.

Laitishia Crutchfield, a pre-med freshman, was a student in Conklin’s class who wrote and received letters from a soldier.

“I just told him I was very thankful for what he was doing over there,” she said.

The assignment had special meaning for Crutchfield, whose brother served in Kosovo.

While he was deployed, Crutchfield and her brother were not able to keep in touch. This assignment gave her insight into what her brother likely experienced during his three-year tour of duty.

Indeah Martin, a freshman majoring in biomedical science, said she tried to relate to the soldier through her struggles as a new student.

“Being that it was my first year of college, I was missing home. They were going home in December, which was our winter break and the first time we’d get to see our parents, too,” she said.

Eason thanked students like Martin and Crutchfield and answered questions about his time in Iraq. He said he was happy to be at USF, but most of all, he was happy to be back in America.

“I’ve been craving Checkers’ hot dogs,” Eason said.

A student asked Eason if he had been shot while in Iraq and he said he had, but the bullet did not penetrate his body armor. He described the war as scary.

“Anyone that comes back from Iraq and tells you it’s not scary is lying. I was scared until the last day,” he said.

“I slept about two hours a night.”