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Second graders welcome home Marine pen pal
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Lance Corporal Charles Hernandez of the U.S. Marine Corps visits Marti Brown’s second grade class at Julien Elementary School on Friday. He has been the class’ overseas pen pal since November, when they sent letters to his base in Afghanistan. - photo by ANDREA GOODWIN/ The Journal

One second grade class at Julien Elementary School had a unique visitor on Friday morning. Marti Brown’s students have been corresponding with U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Charles Hernandez since around Thanksgiving, and on Friday he came to meet them all in person.

“I am overwhelmed that he would come and visit us… I believe it made the world a little bit smaller for (the students),” Brown said.

The class first wrote letters to Hernandez in November and included them in a care package that was sent to him at a small base in Afghanistan. The care package was from James Yandell, whose daughter, Sierra, is in Brown’s class, and his family. Brown said that all of her students got involved in the letter writing and it became a class project.

The second grade class was thrilled when shortly after Christmas they received a letter back from Hernandez. He answered several of their questions, including “Do you have any dogs or cats in the Army?” and “What is it like to shoot a gun?” He also included pictures of his daily life in the Marines, his base in Afghanistan and his Christmas tree.

Students were even more excited when they learned that their Marine pen pal would be coming for a visit on Friday. They created a “welcome home” banner for him and signed it as a gift. Hernandez told the students a little bit about himself and opened the floor for student questions.

Students asked about his favorite type of ice cream, which is chocolate chip cookie dough, his favorite color, which is blue, and what he ate while he was in Afghanistan. He told students about MREs (meals, ready-to-eat), and they agreed with him that they did not sound good, especially the dessert.

One student asked Hernandez what it was like to fight in a war.

“It’s one of those things I hope you never have to do,” Hernandez replied.

Hernandez said that he really enjoyed receiving the kids’ letters. He shared them with other Marines who were stationed at the same Afghan base.

“It helps remind us of what we’re actually doing out there,” Hernandez said.

 It gave him a reminder of why he spent his days training Afghan soldiers and patrolling through mud and canals. He said that he enjoyed the letters and the care package, especially the coffee, but that he wanted to meet the students in person.

“For them to thank me is one of those things I will always remember,” he said.

To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003