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First-graders at Hempfield school Skype with Army officer in Afghanistan

| Monday, April 8, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Students in Kristen Meharra's first grade class wave goodbye to Maj. Kyriakos Sarafis via webcam at Maxwell Elementary School in Greensburg on April 5, 2013. Sarafis is currently serving in Afghanistan.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Students in Kristen Meharra's first grade class raise their hands while speaking to Maj. Kyriakos Sarafis via webcam at Maxwell Elementary School in Greensburg on April 5, 2013. Sarafis is currently serving in Afghanistan.

All that student Vincent Moffa had was a simple question: “How are you doing?”

The reply from Army Maj. Kyriakos Sarafis was short and to the point.

“I got a few more months and then will be home with my family,” he said on Friday from Afghanistan to a group of first-graders crowded around a computer in Maxwell Elementary School in Hempfield.

Teacher Kristen Meharra's students sat patiently while Sarafis read them a book, then raised their hands to answer his reading comprehension questions. Sarafis and the group communicate monthly via the Internet video-calling service Skype.

In November, Meharra's class made a book of thank-you letters and a care package for Sarafis' troops for Veterans Day. Since then, they have been communicating regularly and Skyped for the second time on Friday.

“I think this whole project's been beneficial” for students in putting to work skills they've learned in class, Meharra said. “At the same time, they're also putting smiles on the faces of soldiers that are over there.”

Sarafis found plenty of reasons to smile while fielding questions and singing “Happy Birthday” to one of Meharra's students.

Peyton Heisler asked if he has a television. Sarafis replied that he does, but it's only for watching DVDs.

Shane Johnson asked if he flies an airplane. Sarafis replied that he only rides.

Things got a little heavier when Georgia Bailey asked if any children get injured in Afghanistan.

“From time to time, some kids do get injured because there's bad guys out there,” Sarafis said.

The major noted that children and adults are more educated and more schools have opened since troops arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 to free the country from terrorist organizations. He and his troops “coach and teach” the Afghan army.

“A lot of good things are happening here for the children,” he said.

Meanwhile, his own children — ages 8, 3 and 18 months — are living in North Huntingdon with his wife, Nicolle. Both are from the Pittsburgh area but had been living on a base in Oklahoma before she moved to be closer to their families.

Nicolle Sarafis said her husband's nine-month deployment should end in July.

“We get to talk to him (on Skype) about every day,” she said.

Still, it's not the same.

“I miss my wife very much. I can't wait to give her (and my children) a big hug and kiss,” he told the students.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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