Thanks to eighth-graders at Johnnycake Middle School, a lonely GI in Saudi Arabia is getting mail from home.
Last month Army Pvt. Gary Gustafson, serving with the 27th Engineers, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division, wrote to USA Today complaining that he had nobody to write.
Joe Selby, a social studies teacher at the Baltimore County middle school, showed the letter to a colleague, Dan Shaner, who teaches English. Mr. Shaner turned the soldier's plight into a special project for extra credit.
Fifteen students responded, including Michelle Fellner, who wrote: "I admire you very much for being a part of this. If I was old enough I would be over there fighting. Good luck and may God be with you."
"I thought it would be mostly boys [writing] because of their interest in the military," Mr. Shaner said. "But the girls felt sorry for him and a lot of them are writing.
"They're telling mostly what they're doing in school, what music is popular, what's happening at home and whatever else interests a 14-year-old. Baseball is still big and now football has started."
Throughout the Baltimore area, students are being encouraged to write to U.S. servicemen in the Persian Gulf, either by individual teachers or through systemwide programs.
In Howard County, the school system is supplying addresses where middle and high school students can send letters for general distribution to the troops.
Organized letter-writing programs are in place at elementary schools in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and at high schools in Carroll County.
At Westminster High School, Walk Dyky, an assistant principal, hopes to get all 2,000 students to write a graduate, Gerald Rosier, who is now serving in Saudi Arabia with the 82nd Airborne.
Students at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County have written the troops a long letter -- more than 100 feet long. The missive, written on large sheets of paper and taped together, contains messages, sports news, poems, drawings and puzzles.
At Johnnycake, Mr. Shaner has gathered his students' letters to send in a single package to Private Gustafson, reaching into his own pocket to pay the postage. A common thread running through the letters is concern for the 20-year-old GI's well-being in a dangerous situation.
Kevin Williams writes: "If war breaks out I wish you the best of luck because I would hate to see an American soldier die over a war he didn't even start."
John Pini writes: "How is everything going there? I hope we don't have to see anyone hurt." He ends the letter with a peace symbol and the word "Peace."
John Spratt, the school computer whiz, composed his letter on a word processor and included a computer graphic with Saddam Hussein's portrait and the message -- "WANTED, Dead or Alive."
John writes: "I hope you get back for Christmas. But most people say you will be over there awhile. I would like to know more about you and what is going on in the desert. . . . I would also like to know where you are getting the water for the showers?"
If Private Gustafson replies, the students will be encouraged to continue their correspondence, Mr. Shaner said.