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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Service with a smile: Army lieutenant meets preschooler pen pals, touches many hearts

By
June 1, 2010 |

Enterprise staff writer

A superhero visited University Covenant Nursery School last week.

He may not leap tall buildings in a single bound or anything like that, but to the children in Katie RomingerÕs preschool class, U.S. Army Lt. Jarrod Heredia is definitely larger than life.

Since November, theyÕve been corresponding with Heredia Ñ sending him care packages, drawings and letters full of questions about life in Iraq, where Heredia has spent the past year. He, in turn, has replied with lengthy e-mails of his own, praising their drawings and letters, telling them about his days in the desert and patiently answering their many questions: No, not many Popsicles to be found in Iraq, but yes, itÕs hot.

A bulletin board in the classroom is covered with the photos and letters he has sent, including one announcing his return to Northern California in May, and plans to visit the class last Thursday.

To say the kids were looking forward to that visit would be an understatement.

A large ÒWelcome Home JarrodÓ banner hung from the wall, streamers and balloons dangled from the ceiling and a table of goodies awaited their hero Ñ who just happened to be celebrating his 26th birthday that day.

ÒItÕs the greatest birthday ever,Ó he told the kids. ÒItÕs been a long time since IÕve had a birthday party like this.Ó

Student Jordan Sacramento was thrilled to see him. Mom Karen Sacramento said Jordan insisted on wearing his own camouflage patterned ÒArmy shortsÓ that day in HerediaÕs honor.

ÒHe is so excited,Ó she said.

JordanÕs classmate Max Wagner Òhas been talking about (Heredia) every day,Ó said MaxÕs mom, Corrie Wagner. ÒHeÕs like a superhero to them.Ó

And standing in the classroom on Thursday morning, tall and imposing in his Army fatigues, Heredia looked the part. Even the most rambunctious of students entering the classroom was awed into sudden shyness by the sight of him. But as he dropped to a knee and greeted each of them by name, having clearly paid close attention to the photos they sent him, they overcame their shyness.

In no time at all he was on the floor with them, driving Matchbox cars, and folding his tall frame down beside a little table where several girls were working on beads, Jordan at home on HerediaÕs lap.

ÒI liked when he played beads with us,Ó said 5-year-old Marley Michel.

ÒHe doesnÕt look like he does in his pictures,Ó she added. ÒHeÕs taller.Ó

Tall indeed. The Woodland native and 2002 graduate of Woodland High School played basketball at UC Davis and later UC Santa Cruz. He graduated in 2007 and entered the Army just weeks later.

ÒI got the patriotic urge,Ó he said.

He and Rominger have known each other for many years.

ÒHeÕs the same age as my daughters,Ó Rominger said. ÒAnd I taught him catechism years ago.Ó

One of her daughters suggested Heredia when Rominger was trying to find a military pen pal for her students.

ÒShe said ÔJarrodÕs on Facebook, and heÕs in Iraq,Õ Ó Rominger explained.

Correspondence quickly got under way.

ÒI donÕt know if the kids really know what heÕs doing over there,Ó Rominger said .

They donÕt talk about or even understand the specifics of the situation in Iraq, she noted.

ÒThey talk about him a lot, but itÕs more in terms of, ÔThatÕs JarrodÕs favorite color.Õ Ó

But the correspondence has opened new conversations, Rominger said, and reinforced lessons they already were working on. One such lesson is about the importance of kindness and compassion for others, she said, and students see that what they are doing is a kindness to Heredia.

Another lesson has been about how people are different around the world, and in the case of many women in Middle Eastern cultures, treated differently.

ÒItÕs been good because in this class thereÕs a lot of ÔThis is the boysÕ team,Õ and ÔThis is the girlsÕ team,Õ Ó Rominger said. ÒWeÕve been trying to bring that gender gap together, so itÕs been a really big part of that lesson.Ó

And some lessons are just those of the real world.

In sending photos, Heredia apologized to Adams that nearly all showed the men in his platoon carrying weapons.

ÒIÕm sorry, but we carry our rifles with us wherever we go so itÕs hard to find pictures without them,Ó he wrote.

The photos led to additional conversations at school and at home.

ÒMax asked why he had weapons,Ó said mom Corrie. ÒIt was a little hard to explain, but eventually he got that they were protecting people and protecting freedom.Ó

MaxÕs mom was one of those looking on when all of the students clustered around Heredia for a group photo in the classroom last week. Kids squeezed in as close to Heredia as possible.

ÒThey all want to touch him,Ó Wagner noted. ÒHeÕs a real-life superhero.Ó

Ñ Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at (530) 747-8051 or aternus@davisenterprise.net. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

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