Starting school can be overwhelming for a 4-year-old.
But soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment are making the transition a little easier for the Liberty County Pre-K Center’s first-time students.
2-7 Infantry has been a pre-K center sponsor through three battalion commanders, or roughly six years, according to the center’s principal, Dr. Shelby Bush. Although the unit helps out throughout the year, the first-week tradition has become a highlight of the partnership.
“They’re helping to relieve some of the anxieties that our first-learners experience on the first days of school,” said Tracey Rogers, the center’s academic coach.
Before the first bell rings at 7:30 a.m., the soldiers stand at the center’s entrance way, ready to greet the children as their parents drop them off. Once the cars start rolling in, the troops make their way to the school’s round-a-bout, helping kids out of their vehicles and escorting them through the doors.
Once inside, students line up against the wall, awaiting the arrival of their comrades before being led to their classrooms by the smiling soldiers.
After all the children are settled in, the troops truck cartons of milk and bagged breakfasts to each classroom, assisting teachers and making sure each child gets a meal.
“The kids love the soldiers,” Rogers said. “I think that some, if their dads are deployed, they think, ‘Oh, that looks like my dad,’ and others are just enamored with the soldiers in their uniforms.”
This especially is true for one little boy, who has developed a special relationship with one particular soldier.
As reported in the Courier, Sgt. Stefan Smith was killed in Afghanistan July 23, 2013. Smith’s son, Dewey, now attends the pre-K center, and Spc. Eugene Hagedon has helped make Dewey’s first week of school a little easier.
“His grandfather came in last week asking if a soldier can escort him to class, because his father passed away in Afghanistan last year,” Hagedon said. “And when I heard that, it kind of struck me a little hard, too, so I straight up wanted to help him out … maybe just represent his dad being there or something.”
“When Dewey first came to school here, of course he cried, he didn’t want to leave,” said Tony Mullis, Dewey’s grandfather. “But when Dr. Bush got him an Army buddy, he no longer cries when he goes to school.”
“Because his daddy was in the Army, I think he relates to him pretty well,” Mullis continued. “He goes right to class, no problems, and he looks forward to seeing his Army buddy every morning.”
Hagedon said that although he wasn’t quite sure what to expect, he has enjoyed seeing the kids every day, especially his buddy, Dewey.
“My whole unit’s in (Fort Irwin’s National Training Center in California), and so I wasn’t able to go train with them, and I figured I’m actually doing more good here than I probably would over there,” Hagedon said. “I love it.”
Although the soldiers’ morning escort routine will only last through Friday, Rogers said that the troops stop in as often as two or three times a week, as their schedule allows, to interact with the kids.
“They might get a small group together and play a game of bingo with them or read a story,” she said. “You’ll see them sitting at a table playing Play-doh with them. They just get involved any way they can.”
“We have 460 children in their rooms with breakfast because of them,” Bush said. “We have the best military partner — ours should be the model for everyone.”