Everyday Hero: Students reunite with their Iraq War veteran
A reunion 10 years in the making happened Friday at Incarnate Word Academy as a group of eighth-graders had the chance to reunite with their “hero.”
Miriam Casarez, a kindergarten teacher at Incarnate Word Academy, for the past 13 years, had assigned her students a project back in 2009 to send care packages to an ‘everyday’ hero, a solider serving deployed to Iraq.
“I spoke to the (three- and four- year olds) in a way they understood,” Casarez recalled, “we all have heroes, such as Spiderman, Batman, Superman, etc…, and I told them that we had a true, real-life hero serving overseas.”
Casarez’ niece, Miriam Maria Garza-Gonzalez, had told her about a friend who was serving in Iraq. Casarez and that soldier, Sgt. Jose Escobedo, soon began a vigorous email correspondence, and her young charges became actively involved by assembling care packages to send to him and his unit in Iraq.
“The care packages were filled with food, snacks, granola bars, and candy,” Casarez remembered,” Sgt. Escobedo had specifically requested Gummy bears - red is his favorite.”
Escobedo shared photos of the care packages wherever his unit was posted in Iraq, and proudly displayed the hand-sewn flag that the kindergarteners had made, a patriotic memento that he now prominently exhibits on the wall of his home office.
Later that year, after their kinder project had shipped four care packages to Iraq, Escobedo met the students at Incarnate Word Academy in a special ceremony where the young pupils were excited to meet ’their” soldier for the first time, and thank him for his service.
On Friday, a group of 11 from the original 26 kindergarteners gathered in the IWA museum above the principal’s office. They had no idea about the true purpose of the somewhat-impromptu assembly.
Now-promoted Cmdr. Sgt Major Jose Escobedo strode confidently into the room, accompanied by his wife, Jennifer. A mixture of smiles, shouts, and a few tears, were shared among the assemblage, and he took a chair positioned amidst the semi-circle of the now eighth graders.
“You may have no idea of what those care packages meant to me and the men I shared them with in my unit,” Escobedo declared, “there were some guys there who never received anything, letters or packages from home, and this meant a great deal to all of us.”
Escobedo, who has spent 22 years in uniform, is currently assigned to the National Guard, 3rd Battalion, 141st Regiment based at Camp Mabry in Austin, and supervises 600 soldiers assigned to the Homeland Response team involved in search-, extraction-and-recovery missions along the border.
Eighth-grader Andrea Najera, one of the original kinder students who helped sew the treasured, PK-created stars-and-stripes and assemble the care packages, asked Escobedo what inspired him to become a soldier.
“I had three mentors in the armed forces more than twenty years ago,” Escobedo explained,” and, through their leadership style, they demonstrated, on a daily basis, their definition of a soldier was ‘a leader in the making’.”
“I’m not the kind of person who expects anything back,” Escobedo said, “I’m no hero, and I would challenge you all here today to be leaders, and forget about your problems,” he stated. “It’s all about what you make of your own life.”
As the gathering came to a close, Casarez observed, “this is what Incarnate Word Academy is all about: having academics, projects, and activities that go beyond the learning that’s taking place in the classrooms,” she stated, “ as a teacher, I thank God for always taking care of Sgt. Escobedo and his troops. We always prayed for their safety.”
“ He’s our hero,” Casarez tearfully affirmed.