Messenger photos by Kristy Zurbrick
London Middle School student Ben Huff (left) interviews Tim Spradlin, a senior master sergeant with the Air Force Reserves.
|London Middle School Principal Mark Elliott (right) accepts a framed American flag from Tim Spradlin (left), a member of the Air Force Reserves who wrote letters while serving in Iraq to Ben Huff (center) and his seventh-grade classmates. Spradlin carried the flag under his body armor in Basrah on Sept. 11, 2007.|
|Joe Watson’s seventh-grade language arts class poses with Spradlin.|
Every day while in Iraq, Tim Spradlin kept a small American flag tucked under his body armor.
On Sept. 11, 2007, he carried several small flags with him during combat patrol operations in the Basrah Province. Each of them was for a family member or friend back home.
On Feb. 1, the senior master sergeant presented one of those flags to the seventh-graders in Joe Watson’s language arts class at London Middle School. The flag was Spradlin’s way of saying “thanks” to the students for writing letters to him and his fellow airmen.
“It really meant a lot to know people cared,” said Spradlin, a member of the Air Force Reserves serving with the 445th Airlift Wing out of Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
Spradlin, a resident of Xenia, is good friends with London resident Chuck Huff, a retired chief master sergeant. Huff’s son, Ben, organized the letter-writing project for his classmates. The seventh-graders had a stack of letters ready to go with Spradlin when he was deployed to southern Iraq in May of last year.
Spradlin shared the letters, and others that came later, with members of his unit, the 586th Security Forces Squadron. The group was responsible for base defense and area patrols near Basrah.
“We were thinking of you here in little old Ohio,” Spradlin told Watson’s class. “We really appreciated the letters.”
Stateside, the London Middle School students appreciated the chance to get to know what it was like to serve in Iraq. After sharing a little bit about themselves, the students would ask lots of questions in their letters.
“I asked them where they originally started, when they joined, their rank. I’d ask them about their life there, what weapons they carried,” said Huff. “I started writing back and forth to a guy named Eric Malloy, and I got some new names I’ve been sending letters to.”
Many of the questions the students posed in their letters were the same ones they asked Spradlin when he visited them in person.
• “What did you carry on patrol?”
Spradlin’s reply: “A vest with armored plates, arm protectors, a helmet, rifle, pistol, First Aid kit.” Altogether, the gear weighed 67 pounds. He said it was like carrying a seventh-grader on his back.
• “What were your days like and what did you do in your off time?”
Spradlin: “We worked 14 hours a day. Even when we were off-duty, there were still rockets and mortars going off.” The primary form of entertainment was working out in the gym or watching movies on laptop computers, he said.
• “What kind of food did you eat?”
Spradlin: “Sometimes we ate MREs when we were out on patrol and couldn’t get back…but mostly, it was hot food like in a cafeteria.” For Thanksgiving, the mess hall prepared a traditional meal with all the trimmings.
Spradlin returned from his deployment in December, but he said that doesn’t mean the students should stop sending letters and care packages to military men and women still serving overseas.
He directed them to www.anysoldier.com and www.anyairman.com, Web sites that contain information on how to send support to military personnel. The sites outline what to send, who to send it to, and how to send it. Companion sites also are available for Marines, sailors and the Coast Guard.
“It really boosts everyone’s spirits,” Spradlin said of a care package sent from “home” and shared among military buddies.
Along with the flag he carried with him in Iraq, Spradlin presented the London Middle School students with a certificate and a photo of himself and members of his unit. The certificate read as follows:
"So that all shall know, this flag was carried in the field during combat patrol operations in the Basrah Province, Iraq, from Forward Operations Base Camp Bucca, and bears witness to the global war on terror to insure the freedom of the people of the United States of America and the world.”