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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 4, 2003 - Issue 97


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Marines Meet 8th Graders Who Wrote to Them in Iraq


by Levi J. Long Navajo Times


Sgt. Opie Slivers and Lance Cpl. Fernando Salinas finally met the eighth grade classGREASEWOOD SPRINGS, Ariz. - For some Navajo students, the Iraqi war came close to home Tuesday when Sgt. Opie Slivers and Lance Cpl. Fernando Salinas finally met the eighth grade class who had been writing letters to them during their six-month deployment overseas.

Salinas, 25, from Stanfield, Ariz., met the Navajo students after their homeroom teacher, Rhiannon Gishey, asked an acquaintance of hers to find a Marine who was willing to correspond with her class.

Gishey said it was a great idea for her class to write to the Marines so they could learn first hand about what a real war was like.

"It's huge to have the Marines here because the students have a chance to ask them questions," Gishey said.

She explained that students will learn more about the war from soldiers who've been in the field in addition to traditional classroom teachings.

"It's part of a new wave of education," she said. "It's also important for them to see male role models because I have kids who come from single parent households."

Speaking in Marine Corps fashion, Slivers and Salinas had the attention of the Greasewood Springs Community School eighth graders while giving them an insight into what their six months in Iraq was like and what fighting in a war was all about.

After showing war footage cut from CNN, Salinas and Slivers fielded questions from the inquisitive class ranging from their uniforms and gear to how they felt fighting in a war to whether or not the TV footage was real.

They also brought the currency of Iraq, called dinars, and rugs, stones, Arabic newspapers, photos, journals and Coke and Sprite cans written in Arabic.

"I like sharing my experience with students," Salinas said after the presentation. "This is a special group. They boosted my morale and touched my heart and I wanted to show a token of my appreciation."

Slivers said that the letters from the class meant a lot to him as well.

"It's moving to think that little kids barely in mid-school are thinking of us and are willing to take the time to write to us," he said. "It meant a lot to me definitely to come back especially since I'm from here."

Slivers, 24, is originally from Cornfields, Ariz., and graduated from the eighth grade here in 1993.

He said that the toughest times in the field were those when he had to wait for assignments. The scarier times came when bombs were going off and he heard gun shots from the field.

He said there were days when the weather would reach 150 degrees, he'd be down to one meal a day and his water supply would dwindle to its last drop.

"But we knew we had to get through it," Slivers said. Slivers is also a green belt martial arts instructor and demonstrated some moves much to the kids' delight.

"They liked it when I threw Salinas around," Slivers said, while hiding a grin. The pair also spent a day with Ramona Manson's physical education class and had the kids do military lunges, crab walks and the dead man's crawl and other military drills.

Theresa Yazzie's fifth grade class also participated in the drills. Yazzie said her students were sore walking around like penguins in the school halls.

"Today they're sore. But they enjoyed it. Yeah, they got a good work out," she said laughing.

Salinas and Slivers also made a presentation to Yazzie's class along with Cheryl Johnson's kindergarten class.

"They were really good with the kids," Johnson said. "And not a lot of men can communicate with a large group of kids ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade so I was impressed with that."

Johnson said that she had explained what the war was and went over the terrorist attacks of 9-11 before the presentation. During her explanation she said the Marines were there to protect people.

"I also used sheep as an example," Johnson said. She told her class that soldiers are similar to sheepherders.

"That's what the Marines do is gather some of the bad people together in one place so the bad people won't hurt other people," she said.

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