October 17, 2005
By Maj. Cotton Puryear
BELLE CHASE, La. - "It is a wonderful day at Belle Chase Primary," exclaimed principal Cindy Howle. Students returning to school after missing 35 instructional days were surprised with the gift of teddy bears from National Guard Soldiers from seven different states, including Virginia.
Howle said that six of the nine area schools had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, so their school had absorbed many of those students who had been displaced. Having the Soldiers deliver teddy bears on the first day back to school was a tremendous gesture of support, she said.
"Many of the students have seen the military on the news helping with the clean up and doing the other things they have been doing, but it is so extraordinary for them to come here and let the children know they care," she said.
Approximately 50 National Guard Soldiers from Virginia, West Virginia, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Kentucky and Wyoming participated in "Operation Teddy Bear" and delivered the teddy bears to students in the kindergarten and first grade of Belle Chase Primary School.
Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Griffin of the Louisiana Guard served as the noncommissioned officer in charge. He said the bears were donated by Telephone Pioneers of America from Lafayette, La.
"This is an effort to assist in bringing some stability to our young students returning to school after Hurricane Katrina," he said. "It is our intent to show the students of Belle Chase Primary School that members of the National Guard are people too. We hope that the stuffed animals will in someway assist in recovering from this disaster."
"These kids have lost so much, it is nice to be able to give them something," said 2nd Lt. Jessica Melin, an ambulance platoon leader assigned to B Company, 429th Forward Support Battalion who is serving as part of Task Force Commonwealth. "I wanted to be able to help people, and that is why I joined the Guard. A lot of what we have been doing here has been behind the scenes, so it was nice to see the smiles on the faces of the kids. It is nice to help them get on the road to recovery."
Melin's feeling were echoed by Private Teeka Murray, also of B Company and serving in Task Force Commonwealth. "This is part of what I wanted to do when I come down here," she said. "It is good to be able to come here and lift their spirits and see the smiles on their faces."