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Elementary students adopt Dyess NCO

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- First-grade students from Johnston Elementary School in Abilene welcomed a Dyess Airman back from Iraq with a morning full of Valentines, skits and food there Friday.

The class “adopted” Master Sgt. B.J. Gorham, 7th Logistics Readiness Squadron operations supervisor, during his four-month deployment.

“I got Halloween decorations, and they sent me Christmas gifts and, of course, e-mails back and forth,” Sergeant Gorham said. “It was great just knowing they supported me and a lot of prayers went on my behalf, not just here but in lots of places. I enjoyed it.”

Sergeant Gorham said this was the fourth time he’s deployed, and having a class of firstgraders home supporting him made it different from the other three times he’s been overseas. In a previous deployment, he didn’t have a reliable mail system, let alone e-mail and packages coming in regularly.

After each child had individually approached him with a homemade Valentine, Sergeant Gorham said, “Thank you so much for drawing me pictures. The gifts you all sent were really, really sweet. It made a lot of difference for me, being in Iraq.”

Mrs. Kathy Caroland, the first-grade teacher, said they chose to adopt Sergeant Gorham because his wife, Kathy, has worked at the school as a cafeteria monitor and clerical aid for years.

In fact, seven years ago, Mrs. Caroland taught the Gorham’s daughter when she was in first grade, and Sergeant Gorham, known to the class as “B.J.,” was very active in the parent-teacher’s association. She said he’s spent countless hours helping the school and volunteering in various ways over the years.

“We did this last year, too, and it was such a wonderful learning experience,” Mrs. Caroland said. “The kids learn so much through this -- they learn not just social studies, history and geography but they learn compassion, caring and love for their fellow man. It’s just a real life experience, and you learn so much more from life experiences.”

“I don’t know anybody else in the military,” said Brandon Padilla, 7, one of Mrs. Caroland’s students. “I think it’s sad that he has to fight.”

Mrs. Caroland said she dealt with the subject of war by telling the class that Sergeant Gorham was overseas “to protect us and keep us safe.”

“It’s taught them to have a better respect for the military and for our country, and to have loyalty,” she said. “Before, they probably didn’t even think about it. It probably didn’t even cross their minds; but now they’re aware of what’s going on, they listen to the news, they can’t wait to hear from B.J., they worried about him, and when they see him around the school they get very excited.”

The class first met B.J. in September. When he met them, he told them about his own children, William, 14, and Katelyn, 13, and then said, “And now I have y’all.”

“I’m just so touched by them and glad they’re in my life,” Sergeant Gorham said.