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Bloomington sixth-graders meet their soldier pen pal

By by Dianna Wray
March 23, 2011 at 9:01 p.m.
Updated March 22, 2011 at 10:23 p.m.

Lt. Daniel Garcia speaks to the students who he was pen pals with while in Iraq at Bloomington Middle School on Wednesday. Garcia is home for two weeks and visited the middle school to meet all the children who wrote to him while he was serving overseas.

When Lt. Daniel Garcia III walked into the library of Bloomington Junior High School, a roomful of sixth-graders sprang to their feet to greet their pen pal.

"It felt pretty great," Garcia said.

Garcia, a former student at Bloomington Junior High School, arrived home on a two-week break from his second tour of duty in Iraq on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday afternoon, he appeared in the school library, eager to talk with the students about being a soldier and the importance of school.

Garcia has been pen pals with the students of Tracie Depine's sixth-grade Language Arts class since last fall, exchanging letters while serving in Iraq.

Depine taught Garcia in third grade. Her students were studying heroes, and Depine said she thought Garcia would be a great real-life example for her students.

"Being a hero is about having the courage to do what's right in your eyes with your heart and mind and soul because it's the right thing to do," Depine said. "Daniel has that."

The students peppered Garcia with questions about what it was like to be in Iraq.

"Do y'all have to walk on foot or do you ride around over there," one student asked.

"Well, we ride when we're going places, but then we walk when we are patrolling an area to make sure it's safe, so I guess you can say both," Garcia said with a grin.

Garcia's parents looked on with pride as he showed the students Iraqi money, his military saber and black Stetson hat, a gleaming Iraqi tea set, and a bracelet of camel bone and gold.

Garcia's father, Danny Garcia, beamed with pride as he talked about his son, who has wanted to be a soldier since he was 6 years old.

He said Garcia made a point of coming to see the students to show them what they could achieve.

"There's so much negative stuff in Bloomington, but this is something positive. I think he's one of the first officers from here, and he wanted to show the kids that it's possible, that you can also do this," his father said.

The students seemed impressed with their visitor.

"I thought it was really interesting," Emily Roberts, 11, said, widening her eyes.

Fellow sixth-grader Jared Woodman, 12, agreed with her.

"I thought it was amazing. I'm so glad we got to hear and see him. It was such an honor, really," Woodman said.

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