Jan Bobek's fourth- and fifth-grade class at Soldotna Elementary School can make short work of a stack of 12-by-18-inch American flags.
The students fold the flags in half lengthwise, and then again, creasing the stiff material with their small fingers. Then it's triangle fold all the way to the top, concealing the red and white stripes with a tuck of the star spangled end.
While some of the pre-teens are set up at the folding station, others cut out cards to accompany the flags, and some stuff them into small zipper-sealing bags to be sent to soldiers overseas.
"Everybody has a little job to do," Bobek said. "It's so beautiful it makes you want to cry."
Folding and packaging the flags is no problem for the class of 24 students. The only hitch is finding soldiers to mail the flags to.
"We just need more addresses to send them to," she said.
Last Thursday afternoon, the class worked on folding flags in between its other afternoon activities.
Herb Stettler, the chaplain for the local VFW chapter, taught the students how to fold the flags. Clad in his American flag tie, blazer and VFW overseas cap, he comes to Bobek's class occasionally to visit with students, talk about his time in the Korean War and supervise flag folding.
It was Stettler's idea to start sending miniature folded flags to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. He got the idea from a principal in Utah who has his whole elementary school folding flags.
"A flag for your pocket so you can always carry a piece of your home," Stettler said.
And he thought Bobek was the best bet to carry out his plan.
If anyone could do it, Bobek could, he said. Last year, Bobek's class sent off 288 mini-folded flags.
The children asked Stettler questions about serving in the military.
"How do you carry a wounded person?" "Who was your first friend in the army?" "Do medics carry weapons with them in case they need to shoot?"
And "did you guys have any spies on your side?"
Stettler had the answers.
"I think occasionally there would be one slip through. Somebody would find out and say, 'oh yeah, he's a spy,'" he told the students.
After the question and answer session, the students got to work.
"Those kids are good at it because their hands are small," Stettler said. "They're folding better than I do. They're doing a real nice job."
While the students were folding, cutting and penning letters to soldiers, Sean Lewis, 11, was doing quality control.
"I make them refold them if it's not a right angle triangle," he said.
He said he's happy that the soldiers are getting something from home.
"My Pop Pop was in Vietnam and my mom is in the National Guard," Lewis said. "I'm thankful for what they're doing over there."
Garrett Moore, also 11, was transcribing a letter from the class to some troops.
"It lets them know we think about them everyday so we don't change our minds and come back," he said.
James Freeman, 10, was enthusiastic about sending the flags overseas, while cutting out the cards to put in the bags with them.
"Most soldiers don't get these so it would be pretty exciting for them if they got them," he said.
"Some of the soldiers don't feel appreciated sometimes," added Hailey Yoder, 10.
Stettler helped Hunter Crosby, 10, tuck the edges of his small flag into the side, holding it steady while Crosby maneuvered the material.
"I like it because they fight for us and give us freedom," Crosby said. "When I'm older I'd like to be in the Army and see how it feels."
Stettler said he would've loved to receive an American flag while he was in Korea.
"I would've thought it was a real good gesture," he said.
He said he remembers getting socks, treats and Christmas presents.
"It's really nice to get cookies from home," Stettler said. "When you receive something like that you really appreciate it."
He said one soldier who sent a thank you letter about receiving a flag said he taped it to the inside of his helmet so when he needs a reminder of what he's doing he takes off his helmet and looks at it.
"Then he knew what he was doing over there, so it was a help," Stettler said.
People interested in sending a flag to a friend or loved one who is deployed can contact Herb Stettler at 262-1237 or 394-1367.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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