First Lt. Sarah Hernandez, 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, talks to Elisabeth Thomas, a kindergartner at Martin Walker Elementary School, during the students’ lunch hour Wednesday in Copperas Cove. Soldiers spent the day with students, answering questions about the Army and what deployment is really like for soldiers
Avery Gleason, a third-grader at Martin Walker Elementary School, asks a soldier a question while participating in a lunchtime adopt-a-school program Wednesday in Copperas Cove.
From left, Peyton Dozier, Savannah Caudle and Zoe Charles, all second-grade students at Martin Walker Elementary, listen to soldiers and ask questions during lunch Wednesday in Copperas Cove

By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald

COPPERAS COVE — With a serious expression, Cpl. Timothy Slater stopped and thought before answering a very important question: Are there any Applebee’s restaurants in Iraq or Afghanistan?

The answer: There is one in Kuwait.

The query was one of many from students at Martin Walker Elementary School in Copperas Cove Wednesday. Slater and other members of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion fielded inquiries during a special event for children with parents in the military.

The battalion is the school’s adopted unit, and about 60 students shared lunch and conversation with the soldiers.

“Sometimes it is hard for these students when one of their parents is deployed and they have a lot of questions,” said Heather Welch, site coordinator for Communities in Schools, a nonprofit organization. “Being able to meet other kids in the same situation and ask (the soldiers) those questions can give them a better understanding about what’s going on.”

The monthly gatherings are hosted by the Copperas Cove Independent School District, CIS and the Military Child Education Coalition. This is the program’s second year.

“I think being able to have the soldiers there to answer their questions, or just talk to them, can make them feel closer to their parents,” said Marla Sullivan, Martin Walker’s principal. “It gives them a sense of safety and someone to talk to.”

Slater and the other soldiers answered all sorts of questions, ranging from how many pets they have to how they stay in touch with their families.

Lt. Col. Jeff Gorres said it was important to answer even the most mundane questions. “(Children) always want to have more information,” he said. “I think the more information they have, the more they feel like they understand what is going on.”

Knowing more about what daily life is like for deployed troops appeared to help third-grader John Peterson, who asked about the terrain and weather in Iraq, which a soldier explained. “Oh, so that’s what it’s like for my dad,” he said.

Peterson not only used the opportunity to ask questions, but he and the other students also got an opportunity to talk about life without their deployed parents.

“I have to be the man of the house, and help out with things like showing my mom how to use the computer,” said Peterson. “It’s quite lonely when you don’t have anyone to play video games with.”

The students said they were glad when they got a chance to talk with their deployed parents via the telephone or the Internet.

It was a luxury Slater said he did not have as a child. “My father was a military man, and when he was gone, we would have to wait weeks for a letter,” said Slater. “I think it’s great that we can talk with our families, and these kids get so much support during deployments.”

In the end, the battalion’s soldiers might have learned a little something from the children, too.

First Lt. Sarah Hernandez’s husband, Edwin, is deployed in Iraq with the 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment.

The couple’s daughter, Daisy, is 4, about the same age as some of the children she visited with at the school Wednesday.

“Listening to them talk, and listening to the questions they had, it made me wonder if she has the same questions,” Hernandez said.