Dearing Elementary students are learning the importance of academic achievement and patriotism through the connection between a stuffed bear dressed in camouflage and Fort Gordon's 201st Military Intelligence Battalion Task Force.
The small bear, named Dearing Danny, was a gift several years ago from the school to the 201st to express appreciation for their partnership. The battalion adopted the bear, keeps a scrapbook of activities, and takes him on their visits to the school.
Student Mimi Rosales holds Dearing Danny.
"Whenever we are deployed, then one of the mentors takes the bear with them. Most recently, we took him to a three-month tour of Kuwait all over eight different camps," said Sergeant Vito Barina.
Wanda Mangrum, guidance counselor at Dearing Elementary, said the bear's trips to different countries teach the children geography lessons. She said when the soldiers return from their tours, they come into the classrooms dressed like natives of that country, teach the students customs of the country, and bring photos of Danny's visit there.
The 201st is an intelligence unit that intercepts communications from various agencies around the world, then analyzes and translates the communication for military commanders. Ms. Mangrum said the soldiers sometimes will perform their satellite drills outside in front of the school, invite the students to come watch, and explain what they are doing.
"I'm sure they are planting a seed about the military, but the children love it," Ms. Mangrum said.
Also, the students learn to deal with every aspect of life through the personal involvement of the soldiers. Ms. Mangrum said the soldiers just come through the halls greeting the students, eat lunch with them, bring samples of military rations for the children to taste, let the students climb all over their equipment and wear their hats.
Many of the soldiers are mentors with individual students. Sgt. Barina said he has been mentoring a boy through first, second, and third grade. Barina said he spends 30 minutes each week at school with the child, helping with his school work, and playing at recess with him.
"It's been a good break for me to get a way from the army and go to the school. I joined the army right out of high school, so spending time with the children has been a lot of fun," Sgt. Barina said.
Of the approximate 25 mentors at the school, Ms. Mangrum said half are soldiers. She said the soldiers use a "buddy system," that ensures another soldier takes their place as a mentor if one is sent out on deployment.
The biggest thing the children have learned from the soldiers is the meaning of the word "hoooaaaah." Ms. Mangrum said the soldiers yell the word in unison when they have accomplished something. They taught the students to yell it whenever they do something good.
"I don't understand it exactly," Ms. Mangrum said. "The children can explain it better than I can. All I know is (the children) get so excited whenever they get to yell it out."