Jamie Mink and the rest of his second-grade class at Ruxton Country School have a new hero: Sgt. Steve, the flying desert doc.
"We think he's cool," 8-year-old Jamie says. "Awesome."
The flying desert doc might sound like a new toy line for Christmas, but actually it's the nickname students at the school have given to their Army pen pal, Sgt. Steven L. Andrews, who is stationed in Saudi Arabia as part of the Desert Shield operation.
The correspondence began in early October, when school headmistress Judith Banker-Barrett suggested the students might want to write to Andrews, who is the brother of her daughter-in-law.
Rosanne Perkins, one of two second-grade teachers at Ruxton, said she showed the kids a picture of Andrews. "They wanted to do it immediately. We sat down and wrote him a big letter that day."
Andrews, 25, is a medic who helps evacuate the wounded from && the battlefield. As he explained to his new-found friends: "I'm what they call an 'airomedical evacuation specialist.' In other words, I am a medic who flies in a helicopter."
"The kids have really enjoyed this project," Perkins said. "They hear about [the Persian Gulf standoff] on the nightly news, but it's not the same as getting a letter from a real person."
When the students' wall-sized letter arrived, Andrews hung it inside his tent, his mother, Carol Carpenter said. His reply arrived about a month later and, Perkins said, the kids really enjoyed hearing about life in desert.
"The average temperature now in November is around 95 to 100 degrees," Andrews wrote. "The hottest day so far has been around 120 degrees.
"There are all kinds of animals here," Andrews continued. "There are scorpions and snakes. We try to stay away from them. There are camels everywhere. They are really big and really ugly. The camels are really friendly and we can pet them."
Some students have gotten their parents to mail packages to Andrews. Robert Rescigno said his family mailed Andrews a package of food, such as raisins and nuts. "And toilet paper," he added, as other students giggled.
The students at the private school in Baltimore County are enthusiastic when they talk about Sgt. Steve. They want to meet him, when he returns to the United States.
But, thanks to Andrews' candid reply, they understand that being a soldier in the desert is hazardous.
"Unfortunately," Andrews wrote them, "soldiers get hurt in war or even when preparing for war. We have to move these soldiers as fast as we can to the Army hospitals. . . . It is my job to keep these soldiers alive while we fly to the hospital. Is it dangerous? Yes, my job is dangerous.
"Flying in a helicopter in the desert has many risks. The sand tears up all the moving parts on the helicopter. We have to clean many parts to keep the chopper flying.
"Also, we have sand storms here and sometimes when we fly we lose sight of the ground. That's dangerous.
"Am I afraid? Sometimes I am. I am afraid of going to war, I hope we do not."
"I hope he comes back soon," said Lauren Ridgely, 7. "I can't wait to meet him."