There’s something special about the flag that was presented to Randolph-Macon Academy President Maj Gen Henry M. Hobgood, USAF ret., on Thursday, May 2, 2013: it was carried on patrol in Afghanistan by MSgt Paul Harrison, USAF, in honor of Randolph-Macon Academy Middle School students.
For years, Community Service Director Stephanie Portillo has engaged R-MA students in campaigns to write letters and send care packages to soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members of the community can ask for letters to be sent to their deployed relatives and friends, but most of the letters go through a program called AnySoldier.com; therefore the students do not even know to whom the letters are going. Supervisors and other personnel typically hand the letters out to soldiers who are not receiving letters from home, or to those they know just need an extra pick-me-up.
Harrison, who received the R-MA packages for his unit, wrote to Portillo in an e-mail, “I received the boxes and boxes of packages [and] messages and passed them out. There are a few people here that don't receive mail. So when I gave them the card and said it was for them, their faces lit up. It made me feel like Santa's helper.”
As a way of thanking the students, Harrison carried a flag out on patrol with him in Afghanistan, and sent it to Stephanie Portillo, along with a certificate of dedication, some Afghan money and the sincere appreciation of his entire unit. Although R-MA has received such flags before, this is the first one to be specifically designated for the R-MA Middle School. Sam Beavers ’17, Joseph Silek ’17, and Ben Schoonover ’17, the three students who wrote the most letters in the Middle School’s recent letter-writing campaign, folded the flag and presented it to Hobgood.
In addition to presenting the flag, the three students joined the rest of Bill Curl’s mentoring group in Portillo’s classroom the next day to put together the next round of soldier care packages to be sent out. These boxes were filled with newspaper comics, magazines, candy, Girl Scout cookies, and letters from the students.
Nkeng Morfaw, one of the students in Curl’s mentoring group, said that he participated in the letter-writing campaign because it was important “to show we appreciate what all the soldiers are doing for us.”
“Even if sometimes you do not hear it, I want you to know that we are grateful for everything we do for our country,” wrote one student.
“We are praying for you,” wrote another.
Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational day and boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12. Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA’s 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and have the option to participate in a unique flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.