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Soldier visits St. Ansgar class to thank his student pen pals
Sgt. Ryan Schmitt shows students in Ann Powers' second-grade class at St. Ansgar Elementary a little teddy bear from a Happy Meal from a McDonald's restaurant in Iraq. (MARY PIEPER/The Globe Gazette)

ST. ANSGAR — The students in Ann Powers’  second-grade class at St. Ansgar Elementary received a visit from a special pen pal Monday.

Sgt. Ryan Schmitt of the Waterloo-based 445th Transportation Co. of the Iowa National Guard came to the classroom to thank them for the letters they sent to him in Iraq.

The children “were absolutely thrilled” when they learned Schmitt was coming, Powers said.

One little boy in camouflage snow pants jumped up and down and said “Yay!” when he and his classmates came back to their room after recess and found Schmitt there.

Schmitt met Powers during the summer through Sydney Crippen of Waterloo, Schmitt’s  fiancee and daughter of Shirley Crippen, a speech pathologist with AEA267 who works at St. Ansgar Elementary.

Powers’ class is doing a Flat Stanley project, sending cutouts of Flat Stanley, the main character in a series of children’s  books, to people in other states.

Those who receive Flat Stanley in the mail take pictures of him in various locations and write about his experiences.

The second-graders sent a Flat Stanley cutout to Schmitt, who was deployed to Iraq for the second time in three years in July, as well as letters.

“It’s just really nice to see the energy they have and their interest in what I do,” said Schmitt, 24, who is home in Waterloo on two weeks’ leave before heading back to Iraq.

Getting letters from children allows soldiers to “get back to the innocence of life,”he said. “It brings a little bit of brightness to the day.”

Schmitt, a mechanic, had someone take a picture of him with Flat Stanley in front of some of the big military supply trucks he repairs in Iraq. He sent it to the class via e-mail.

The children had lots of questions for Schmitt during his visit, such as what he eats in Iraq.

“I like mac and cheese a lot,”he said.

“So do I,” one of the youngsters said.

Schmitt told them it gets up to 120 degrees in Iraq and said the gear he has to carry around  weighs more than 150 pounds.

“It’s like carrying three of you,” he said.

After Schmitt returns to Iraq, he will remain there until early summer.

He promised to continue corresponding with the children and visit the class again once he is home for good.

Shirley and Sydney Crippen distributed yellow ribbons to the students so they can pin them to their backpacks to remember Schmitt until he comes home.

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