Troops answering a different call

Citizens in a Taliban-controlled area in Afghanistan were warned not to talk to American soldiers or they would be killed “on the spot.”

But one 8-year-old boy found Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple, who expected a request for food or clothing from the boy. He was wrong.

“No, I want a pen,” the boy said. “I don’t have a pen to go to school.”

After his mission in June, Temple told his wife Liisa Temple, an instructor for USF’s mass communications department, to “send me the first box of school supplies.”

It caught on, and other Air Force wives and families began sending supplies.

Then schools joined the cause. The School Supplies for Afghan Children project was born.

Now, people from all over the country are sending boxes of school supplies, Temple said. So far, more than $3,000 has been raised for the shipping fund to send these boxes overseas.

Temple said more than 200 boxes have been sent to date. Students from Coleman Middle School in Tampa helped Temple pack 60 on Veterans Day.

In support of the drive, USF and MacDill Air Force Base will collect school supplies at the USF vs. Louisville football game Saturday. Drop boxes will be located outside the north and south end of Raymond James Stadium.

USF will also honor active and veteran military members at the game.

School supplies can also be dropped off at the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement in the Marshall Student Center.

“I’m all excited that we have an official USF connection,” Temple said. “My husband wants to keep this going until the end of this tour and even beyond.”

Rex Temple headed to training in February and left for Afghanistan in May. He is scheduled to return this May.

Through Skype conversations online, Rex Temple shares with his wife how the project is helping.

He’s seen children splitting pencils so they can all have one, Temple said.

At a young age, Afghan children get recruited by the Taliban.

“You can make $10 setting up an improvised explosive device (IED),” Temple said. “And $10 there could feed a family for a week, even more than a week. So there’s tangible benefits.”

Rex Temple is considering raising money to build a school in Afghanistan, she said.

“Regardless of how you feel about the war, these are little kids who don’t have pens,” Temple said. “It’s just one of those things that most Americans feel like, ‘I can get into that cause and I can help.'”

USF alum and former Miss America Nicole Johnson saw a glimpse of how important this cause was on her trip to Afghanistan last month.

In what was meant to be a “morale booster” for the troops, the trip affected Johnson.

“It’s hard to come back to all the comfort that we have here and you deal with that kind of mental reality that we live in this ‘I want’ culture,” she said. “For most people, what they want they end up getting in some way or another.”

The way we live compared to people in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and even the soldiers is very different, Johnson said.

“You kind of come back wanting to strip down,” she said, “and reassess your expectations of the world around you and the comforts that you live in.”

That’s left her thinking a lot about what she can do to help. She met Temple through a mutual friend shortly after her return.

“It’s nothing like having a part of you over there to invigorate you or fill you with passion about something,” Johnson said. “And having walked on the land and I visited some of her husband’s projects where he was.”

Johnson and five other former Miss America winners attended the trip, which was organized through Armed Forces Entertainment in the Pentagon. The women visited military units that had recently experienced a death of a fellow soldier.

It was the first time in history that former Miss America winners joined to do something mission-oriented, she said.

Johnson’s 3-year-old daughter, who is learning to write, is intrigued with writing letters on her chalkboard.

And when Johnson told her daughter to take a break from writing one day, she heard one thing: crying.

“And I thought, you know, that’s what these other kids want to do,” she said.

Needed supplies include: spiral notebooks, pencils, pens and whiteboards. Checks can be sent to Holland & Knight Foundation, P.O. Box 2877, Tampa, FL 33602.