Soldier meets young South Allegheny pen pals
To help the students understand Iraqis' infatuation with soccer, Army Capt. Eric Cindric asked them to imagine a group of armed Steelers fans right after Pittsburgh scores a touchdown.
Cindric, 31, of Port Vue returned from a one-year deployment in Iraq two weeks ago. Last week, he spoke to the South Allegheny Elementary School fifth- and sixth-graders with whom he regularly corresponded during his time overseas.
The letters from home were a morale booster and provided refreshing perspectives, said Cindric, an Army Ranger who belonged to an elite 11-man team training about 500 Iraqi soldiers in police and security procedures.
"Everything was surprising," he said. "They're an interesting bunch of kids to talk to."
Ashley Fine, 12, of Liberty said it was interesting to get a first-hand account of Iraq. The students wrote to Cindric and other members of his unit about once a month.
"I asked them what they did, and said I hoped they would stay safe," she said.
Cindric said the letters were a hit with members of his team. Being stationed about 6,000 miles away, any reminder of home is a welcome break, he said.
"Some guys don't get mail, so anything they get is huge," he said.
Vikki Ackinclose, a "second mother" to Cindric, suggested last year that he and the students in Ruth Chan's class write to one another. Ackinclose said the correspondence helped the children sharpen writing and thinking skills -- and taught them about a different culture and the life of a soldier.
"We wanted them to see what he was going through," she said.
Cindric showed the students pictures of his unit and their interactions with Iraqis in the Mosul region. In some of the pictures, the team is handing out school supplies the class sent over for Iraqi children.
"This is what you guys did," he said, pointing to children clutching the supplies. "You helped those kids over there."
Cindric brought souvenirs, including an Iraqi dollar, for each student. He discussed some of the cultural differences between Iraq and the United States, but pointed out similarities, such as how everyone stops to watch sports.
"Nobody does any business; everything shuts down," he said. "Imagine Pittsburgh Steelers fans running around in the desert."