East Elementary School second-grade teacher Michelle Georgiou was surprised when she received a call two weeks ago from a boy she taught 12 years ago.
She was even more surprised that he called her from Iraq.
"It just blew me away," Georgiou said. "I think he's lonely."
Army specialist Greg Calim, 21, generally calls his mom or his sister once a week from his base in Iraq. Still, it's been more than a 1 1/2 years since he's been home.
"He likes to talk to anybody -- friends, family, friends of family," his mother, Diane, said. "He just tries to stay involved."
Pretty soon, he'll be involved in all the second-grade gossip and happenings at East Elementary School. When Calim mentioned to Georgiou that a friend of his just received a package of Halloween cards from his old fourth-grade class, Georgiou jumped on the hint and said she'd put something together.
Diane said her son is expecting some e-mails.
"I think the package will really surprise him and let him know everyone does appreciate what all the boys over there are doing," she said.
Instead of e-mails, Calim will get a letter and drawing from every student in Georgiou's class. Her students wrote the letters with the help of their fourth-grade writing buddies.
Second-grade students have long mentored kindergarten students in reading, but Georgiou wanted to focus on writing, so she enlisted Judy Foster's fourth-grade class to help.
The fourth-graders seemed to enjoy the assignment as much as their writing buddies.
"I think it's kind of fun," Skylar Tripp said. "You get to talk to a soldier."
Students drew pictures of their school, tanks and the American flag to send Calim.
A common theme in their letters -- as acquaintances often will discuss -- was weather.
Earlier, students heard that it was 130 degrees where Calim is stationed outside Fallujah, and several wanted confirmation. Kevin Schneider wrote, "How hot is the war?"
"It's cool," second-grader Daniel Rockwell said. "I want to know if he drives a tank."
Rockwell will find out, when he gets a letter back, that Calim doesn't drive tanks, but he does repair and maintain them.
Most of his work is done on base, which attributes to the frequency of his calls home, but it was while he was traveling with a convoy that he was wounded a few weeks ago.
He was hit in the forehead by a piece of shrapnel when the convoy came under attack. The shrapnel was removed, and Calim soon was returned to active duty. In addition to the Purple Heart he earned, Calim will bring home the shrapnel, which he plans to have made into a ring.
Student's asked, "How is your head?" and "Were you scared?"
No question is taboo. Calim e-mailed students Nov. 19 telling them to ask him about anything they want to know.
Calim has a lot in common with the students he's corresponding with. He attended East Elementary School with Georgiou as his second-grade teacher. Diana Cook, who is now the school's principal, was his third-grade teacher, and Kelly McLaughlin worked with him in reading.
"They all remember him," Georgiou said. "It really brought it home."
"East is fine," Calim was reassured in a letter written by Landon Willey, who bypassed the usual "sincerely" and "yours truly," and instead signed off "peace."
Calim enlisted in the Army nearly two years ago as the confrontation with Iraq was heating up. He was trained in Ft. Knox, Ky., and immediately shipped out to Korea, where he spent a year. He went directly to Iraq from Korea and isn't expected home until August or September.
"He's talked about continuing in service, but hasn't made a final decision," Diane said.
The package was sent on Wednesday, missing Calim's Thanksgiving celebration, but giving one lonely soldier something to be thankful for nevertheless.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or firstname.lastname@example.org.