Somewhere in the Saudi Arabian desert, Air Force Sgt. John Davis is living in a tent with six other men. The students at Grange Elementary School in Dundalk want him to know that the community where he grew up has not forgotten him.
That's why the reply he sent to the students in response to letters they had written to him and his fellow airmen is prominently displayed in the Grange school hallway.
"I want them to know that people down here care about them," said 7-year-old John Brooks, who is in second grade.
"I told them how much we were missing them and thanked them a lot," said Angela Burgess, 10, a fifth-grader.
Like students across the country, children at Grange wanted to write to troops in Saudi Arabia to express their support. But an administrator at the school figured the project would go much better if they didn't simply address letters to "Any Soldier."
"We knew if we had the name of one person, the letters would get there faster," said Joyce Keller, the school nurse. So she contacted a neighborhood couple who had a son stationed in Saudi Arabia.
At least half the 400 students at Grange wrote letters to the troops and shipped them to Sergeant Davis, who distributed them around to hisfellow airmen. They were delighted when they recently received a letter from two of the airmen, including Sergeant Davis, the hometown boy.
The sergeant's mother, who received a telephone call from her son Thursday, was able to tell him how thrilled his new pen pals were.
"I told him how excited everyone was," said Martha Davis. "And he felt good about that."
Sergeant Davis, 24, is a graduate of Patapsco High School and Our Lady of Hope Elementary School, which is near Grange. After highschool, he joined the Air Force and has been in for six years.
He was stationed in London, where his wife Karla still lives, when he got word in August that he was being deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield.
His mother, who is a day-care provider, said she and her husband, John, want everyone to know how proud they are of their only child -- and how much they want him home.
Because of the stress of having a child in the Persian Gulf, she said, Christmas will not be a joyous occasion.
"We are going to put some decorations up. Not a lot," Mrs. Davis said. "My heart isn't in it. I want Johnny home. It's a sad time. It's a scary time."
To make the holidays a bit brighter for Sergeant Davis and other airmen, the school has shipped out a huge Christmas card, along with gifts. They will continue to keep in touch with the airmen, administrators from the school said.
In his letter, Sergeant Davis thanked his Dundalk pen pals for their support. He wished them happy holidays, urged them to keep up their school work, and to remember this period of their young lives.
"Never forget these times we live in for they are something you can recall one day and pass along to the next generation of young people," he wrote. "You can tell them that you helped out in the support of the men and women in Desert Shield."