BURRILLVILLE – While it may be common in the U.S. for students and others to send special packages with supplies, or notes of thanks and encouragement, to those serving overseas with the armed forces, no such tradition exists in England.
And so, when soldiers with the British Royal Air Force received cards and letters from students from Austin T. Levy and Steere Farm Elementary Schools over the holidays, they were impressed.
“In England, this is not really a thing kids do,” said Major Rich Schanda, an Air Force helicopter pilot who is serving with a British squadron as part of exchange assignment program. “They were blown away.”
Schanda and his wife Meredith Schanda, who also serves in England as a military nurse, visited both schools this week to thank the students with American flags from the squadron and citations dedicated to the facilities. In a video shown to the kids at an assembly on Thursday, Feb. 27, British soldiers expressed their gratitude.
The troops were serving in Kabul, Afghanistan at the time, and the packages, which were filled with holiday cards and decorations, led the British squadron to celebrate their first “American Thanksgiving.”
“Thank you so much for your Thanksgiving boxes,” said one British soldier in the video. “We had a really wonderful evening.”
Major Schanda said he will be serving with the British forces for at least three years as part of the exchange program, and spending most of his time in England, with several stints in the Middle East.
“It’s a really great way for the cultures to share ideas and to strengthen the alliance,” Schanda told NRI NOW of the program.
The care package effort began thanks to Schanda’s cousin Heather Reifler, a mother of students at both schools. Five classes at AT Levy participated in the initial effort, sending cards and letters with warm messages for the troops.
“They expressed their appreciation for the military and everything they do to keep us safe,” said teacher Maureen Byrne, noting that the cards contained notes saying things such as “thank you,” and “I love you.”
The kids were not done expressing their gratitude, and this week the entire student body created banners, signs and cards welcoming the Schandas. As the major spoke, many of the kids waved handmade paper American flags, and he left the school Thursday with a new pile of cards to share with his British counterparts.
“I’m very proud of all of you,” Principal Monica Tomson told the students.