Sergeant First Class Adrianne Benson knows the lonely feeling of spending the holidays away from family. Christmas with comrades in Afghanistan just didn't compare to home. That's why she's visiting 5th graders at Franklin Elementary School in Oshkosh and explaining why their support of the American Red Cross' Holiday Mail for Heroes program is so important.
"It's actually really special to receive something when you're overseas. It's a connection to home basically and just kind of lets you know that you're remembered during the holiday season and that other people are thinking of you," she said.
The entire school is creating handmade cards to brighten the spirits of those who've served.
"It's really important to me, because they risked their life for us," said 5th Grader Faith Anderson.
Classmate Ryan Lemke adds, "They could be going through a hard time, and they helped you where you are today."
Active troops overseas as well as reserve centers in Wisconsin will receive the holiday greetings, but the majority of the anticipated 10,000 cards made this year by schools, businesses, and service organizations in Northeast Wisconsin will go to veterans.
"I just really think they're going to be happy," said 5th Grader Izzy Dietzler.
Franklin Elementary students will travel from Oshkosh on Monday to the King Veterans Home to sing Christmas carols and hand deliver their messages.
"At this time of year, especially in a place like King where a lot of the members don't have a lot of family members to visit them, having elementary students come brings a little cheer to the whole building and a little holiday joy they wouldn't otherwise get," explains Holiday Mail for Heroes Coordinator Phil Zubella.
Teacher Marlo Osmond adds, "What the 5th graders learn from this experience is that their time is just as valuable as money or presents."
The reaction they receive from the veterans is also priceless.
Zubella says, "A lot of the members at King keep the cards, post them on their board, and they'll show people who visit them, 'Look what I got.'"
The veterans say the gift of gratitude means more than anything you could buy from a store.
"I hope they are just like really happy, because they really deserve it," said 5th Grader Tyler Wilson.