Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Kimball Elementary School received a surprise when SPC Ryan Merrill visited Mrs. Herrington's fifth-grade class Wednesday, Jan. 21, with a flag that flew in Iraq. Ryan is part of the 34th Combat Brigade (better known as the "Red Bulls")currently serving in Iraq. She was on a 15-day leave when she visited the class. Ryan's cousin Amanda Roerick is in Mrs. Herrington's class. The class wrote pen pal letters in November to Ryan for her to distribute to other soldiers. Ryan says she distributed about half of the letters. Ryan says the soldiers are always happy to receive letters, especially from kids. Ryan also made a surprise to student Ariel Laabs whose cousin Heidi Laabs is serving time in Iraq also. Ryan met Heidi because Heidi is an entry-point control guard on the same base, and they found there was a connection. Ariel's face said it all when she heard news from her cousin. Mrs. Herrington's class was happy to have Ryan come and talk about her life and job serving in Iraq; their questions seemed to never end. Some questions the class asked were: Q: How many uniforms do you have? A: 10, a new one each month. Q: Do you drop grenades from helicopters? A: No, that's not part of my job. Q: Where do you go if you're getting attacked? A: There are bunkers we go into that are in the ground. Q: Why are we bombing Iraq? A: There are a lot of different reasons. One is to help gain trust of the Iraqis. I'm part of OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom). Our mission is, once we gain trust, we can build the nation up. Ryan's job Ryan says she signed up for the military when she was 17 years-old. She has served for eight years and this is her second tour, her first overseas. Ryan's job in Iraq is as a full-time secretary to the colonel. Her work week consists of being at work by 9 a.m. and working until at least 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday is her day off, which is called "Rest and Recuperation Day", but she says a lot of people (including all of the officers) don't get a day off. Food Ryan says the food is a lot different. She says her typical meal is similar to what you'd get served in a cafeteria here. There's no milk, instead they have soy milk to drink or put on cereal. She says spices also taste different. A typical lunch would consist of a salad bar with soup, sandwich and dessert. Entertainment Ryan says on her day off she will read or watch a movie. They have a movie theater on base. She can also get any shopping done at a store called PX. She says there's another place on base called Military Welfare and Recreation where people can work out and go swimming. There are also activities such as karaoke and game tables. Contact back home Ryan says any extra time is typically spent trying to make contact with people back home. Ryan is also a single mom to 3-year-old son Davin who lives now with her parents. She says Davin knows his mother works far away and he is doing okay with the idea. Now that she's home, she says he's afraid she's going to leave again. Ryan tries to make a couple of phone calls a week to home. Sometimes it's an hour wait in line to make a short phone call. It's nice because they can purchase a card to make calls for $25 and that's good for 10 hours, but you're only allowed 20 minutes maximum to talk. Some people have brought their own laptops, Ryan says. People sometimes will split the cost of a satellite dish to make it easier to contact home. Another nice thing Ryan says is the 3M Company allows soldiers with children to make a DVD of them reading a book to their child(ren). 3M ships the video recording along with the book to the children at no cost to the soldiers. Ryan does for her son every two weeks. Living in Iraq Although she's not in combat herself, Ryan has to keep her M-16 rifle at all times on her, including work and meals. As for training, she says she was trained to use several guns, got some medical training, and learned additional skills such as what to do if a Humvee rolls over. Part of Ryan's job is to supervise about 30 Iraqis who spread rocks over the sand on the base. She occasionally goes to the bazaar to barter, but that's the limit of her interaction with locals so far. She hopes to visit the children's hospital on base where she can interact more. Her least favorite parts of life in Iraq are sandstorms and critters, she says. "It's hard to breath and we have to wear medical masks [during sandstorms]," Ryan says. "You can't take deep breaths. It's really intense." As for critters, there are small lizards everywhere, she says. They also have huge camel spiders, wild cats, pigeons, and sand fleas. Presenting the flag Everyone in Mrs. Herrington's class received a brigade patch sticker, similar to what her unit would wear. Ryan then presented the flag with its certificate of authenticity. The class learned how to stand in platoon formation for the flag raising as well as several military positions: to stand at attention, parade rest, present arms, and order arms. The class gathered outside at the flagpole and performed the motions in their platoon formation. The flag was then raised.