Soldier, students connect

A Canadian soldier had the opportunity on Thursday to put a face to the names of Sylvan Lake school children who sent him letters while he served in Afghanistan.

Cpl. Wolfgang Brettner

Cpl. Wolfgang Brettner

A Canadian soldier had the opportunity on Thursday to put a face to the names of Sylvan Lake school children who sent him letters while he served in Afghanistan.

Cpl. Wolfgang Brettner with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment came to Ecole Steffie Woima Elementary School to meet the Grade 5 students who wrote to him and 12 of his fellow soldiers for five of the seven-and-a-half months they were in Afghanistan.

Brettner, who arrived home from his first deployment just three weeks ago, was eager to visit with the 22 students who sent the brightly coloured and upbeat mail.

He had lunch with the kids in between an assembly where all Grade 4 and Grade 5 students learned about the regiment history and had the opportunity to try on military uniforms that date back to the Second World War.

“It’s nice to see that people at such a young age actually care and that they take time out of their day,” he said.

“People care and they don’t even know you, but they take the time to write letters. It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”

The children were equally enthused to meet one of the men they wrote to.

“I’m excited to meet some people who have actually had that experience and know about that stuff that we don’t know about,” said 11-year-old Mariah Shaw, adding she hopes to one day help end war.

Emma Villeneuve, 11, wrote about school, life in the Central Alberta town and, as many of her classmates did too, the latest Olympic updates to give the soldiers a bit of a break from the reality they faced.

Villeneuve was one of the few students who heard back from a soldier, the hand-written reply also including an Afghan bill. The letter and money hang on the classroom wall.

Teacher Leah Rawlings said it was a lesson in encouraging others.

“It was something to step out of Canada, something looking at a little bit of a bigger picture and something to just help the kids to see the value of encouraging and reaching out to others,” she said.

The students also sold popcorn, chips and homemade fudge to raise nearly $500 for a care package they shipped over to the troops.

They sent Tim Hortons gift cards that could be used at the Kandahar base.

“That was like Christmas,” Brettner said with a laugh as he recalled the day the care package arrived.

ptrotter@bprda.wpengine.com