Show and tell on war footing Guardsmen visit school, offer demonstrations, explanations PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

January 25, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

It was show and tell, war-style, at the Kennedy Institute School.

Capt. Bernie Liswell of the Maryland National Guard, in crisp camouflage fatigues, stood before a roomful of students with physical and emotional disabilities.

Slowly rotating a combat helmet in his hands, Liswell said: "This helmet is made of Kevlar, a material that will stop a bullet. It can save a soldier's life."

The captain continued: "The helmet costs $103. That's more than you'd pay for a football helmet in the Super Bowl."

A few kids gasped: "Dag!"

Liswell and Master Sgt. Jesse Street of the 5th Regiment Armory had been invited yesterday to the East Baltimore school, which is part of the Kennedy Institute for disabled children, to 'u demonstrate military equipment and field questions about the Persian Gulf war.

About 50 of the school's 78 students, who range in age from 2 to 13 years old, were on hand, along with about 10 of the 28-member teaching staff.

The students commute to the school each day. Most are city residents. Others come from Baltimore, Harford, Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties.

Principal M.E.B. Lewis said yesterday's half-hour program was conceived of partly to offer emotional support for a student who has a relative serving in the gulf.

"We thought that talking about the war and getting information about it would enable us to help him through this time," she said. "It helps all the students really. Since most of their problems are emotional, we felt it was important to deal openly with war issues. We've also discussed the anti-war movement with them."

War held center stage yesterday.

After showing the helmet, Liswell strapped on a belt that held a pistol, bullets, a canteen and medicine. Next came the frightening array of protective gear to be used in a chemical attack -- a gas mask, boots, gloves and a poncho-like suit (lined with charcoal to filter out chemicals that might otherwise enter through the skin, Liswell explained).

In battle, a soldier must be able to don all the protective gear

within two minutes, he said.

As he demonstrated how to put on the gas mask within the nine-second limit required in fighting conditions, some kids giggled. A teacher quickly admonished them: "That's not funny! Why is he wearing that mask?"

"To protect from the gas," one of the children sheepishly answered.

"That's right," the teacher said. "It's deadly gas. It's a serious thing."

Liswell then showed samples of hydrated food, which comes in air-tight aluminum packs that are placed inside cardboard boxes. He produced a rectangular box of hydrated ground beef and said, winking, "Just add water and it's like eating at McDonald's."

He also displayed a pack containing a chocolate candy bar. He knocked on the aluminum wrapper to show how hard the candy was.

"Army butter and Army chocolate will never melt," he said, "not even in the desert."

"Do you have to add water to the candy bar?" a student asked.

"No," Liswell said, "you just need strong teeth."

Small groups of the students then took turns presenting handmade valentines to Liswell and Street, who promised they would mail them to soldiers in the gulf. One student read a letter that he had attached to a valentine. The letter expressed support for the war effort, and suddenly, in one of those clunky transitions common to children, asked, "Do you have Nintendo?"

Another valentine consisted of a drawing of jet fighters in action, done in pencil on loose-leaf paper -- and a poem for the soldiers, which a boy read:

Blood is red,

sky is blue,

us Americans

need you.

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