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Students thank veterans for service, Veterans thank students for support

Getting mail while serving in the military is like Christmas every Sunday.


At least that’s how 19-year-old Kenai Central High School graduate and current Navy construction mechanic Adam Agosti feels about it.

Agosti, who attended Friday’s annual Veterans Day assembly at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary, told students he is waiting to be deployed as a member of the Navy’s SeaBees — a group tasked with building and maintaining Afghanistan bases and performing humanitarian efforts.

Recently, Agosti said he received a bundle of mail from seventh graders at Kenai Middle School through teacher Ken Felchle, who is also a 21-year veteran of the Army National Guard.

“That was one of the most special times,” Agosti said with a smile. “I got 25 letters that day, 30 letters and I was so happy.”

Felchle said he was disappointed he couldn’t attend this year’s assembly like he usually does.

“I’m just really proud of (Agosti) that he is going off and serving his country and it is important and so few people do it,” Felchle said of his former student. “So we try really hard because I knew when I was deployed as well … when I got a letter it was so very important.”

Felchle said his students recently wrote to two soldiers from the area deployed in Afghanistan, Sgt. David Schwenke and Sgt. Anthony Kline, both of whom serve in the Army National Guard. Felchle also said students will also be writing to John David Ahlberg who is currently serving in the Air Force.

“Even though we live in a world of instant messaging and emails and everything like that, when a solder receives a letter, they know it came from home, that someone took the time to write it and even in today’s world, it is a powerful thing to do,” he said.

The annual assembly has been hosted since 1998 at the school by Soldotna resident Steve Wright, a 64-year-old former paratrooper and former head custodian at K-Beach Elementary. Wright said he hoped to see more schools in the area celebrate Veterans Day as well.

“It started with just some blue stars on the wall with the names and has gone through what we had today,” he said.

Wright said this was the first year he got through the assembly without crying.

“It’s a very emotional thing for me,” he said afterward.

The assembly featured poems read by students, presentations of handmade quilts to veterans, recognition of two mothers of enlisted men and numerous speeches about the importance and meaning of Veterans Day by Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Steve Atwater, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre and State Senator-elect Peter Micciche.

“Because you are here doesn’t mean that you like war,” Micciche said to the students. “Because you are here, it is because you like peace and that’s what our military does — keeping us safe by keeping the peace.”

Said Atwater, “This is a very special day for our country and we should never lose sight of that.”

Atwater lead the students in thanking the veterans who were in attendance by having half of the student yell ‘thank’ and the other half shout ‘you’ three times, each time asking the students to be louder.

“No wussies,” Wright said. “Be loud.”

Korean War veteran Herb Stettler started the discussion of the importance of letters to troops by encouraging the students to send them letters. And cookies.

“They’ll love you forever,” he said.

Principal Melissa Linton said the school usually sends out letters or other things for the troops each year around the holidays, but hasn’t yet done so this year.

“We do a lot of things that are connected with the military,” Linton said. “... It is never the same every year, but like last year we had a huge magazine thing and we sent boxes and boxes of magazines over there.”

Among the veterans who addressed the students was U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Third Class Justin Harrison, who is currently stationed in Homer.

“The mail is definitely a must,” he said. “When I was in bootcamp, it was one of my only experiences being away from my family, and just to know that someone is thinking about you, to get a letter from anyone, kind of brings it home and makes you feel good about what you are doing.”

Kasilof resident Brian Marang, a 29-year veteran and current Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force Air National Guard, echoed a similar sentiment.

“As Herb mentioned, the letters, I’ve read probably hundreds of those in Afghanistan and in Africa during my deployments and it is inspiring and motivating to me to read those and if any of you took the time to write them, that’s awesome,” he said. “Thank you for doing that for us.”

Navy veteran Mike Meredith didn’t speak at the event, but said he thoroughly enjoyed the assembly.

“This is one of the reasons we fight wars is for the kids, for the future generations,” said Meredith, a 65-year-old Mackey Lake resident who served during Vietnam as a deep water sailor on an aircraft carrier. “Even though you don’t want to fight one, you know, to keep our country the way it is.”

Meredith said he did a little reflecting during the events.

“You can’t help but think about the things you did and the people you knew and the experiences you had,” he said. “... Like Dan (Furlong) said, that he just as soon go over and do it again? Some of it I would and some of it I wouldn’t.”

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.