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A heartfelt thanks, from a world away
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

Fourth-grader Liam Strohschein, 10, listens Wednesday at Bell-Graham Elementary in Campton Hills to a phone call from Army medics and nurses working in the 86th Combat Support Hospital in the Iraq Green Zone.


Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

Fifth-grader Eddie Harriet on Wednesday at Bell-Graham Elementary in Campton Hills asks American soldiers at a military hospital in the Iraq Green Zone how long the war will last. Students sent 33 boxes of gifts to the hospital.


Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

Fourth grader Andrew Roberge holds a flag as students say the Pledge of Allegiance via phone call from United States Army medics and nurses working in the 86th Combat Support Hospital in the Iraqi Green Zone Wednesday at Bell Graham Elementary in Campton Hills.


Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/29/2008 12:04 AM

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SpongeBob SquarePants pajama bottoms are a hot commodity to soldiers in Iraq.

It's a good thing Liam Strohschein and his fellow students at Bell-Graham Elementary School in Campton Hills remembered to send a pair.

Strohschein, 10, devised a plan to send care packages to troops in Iraq. The thanks came Wednesday, when Lt. Steve Scuba and Bell-Graham Principal Ruth Ann Dunton held a conference call at 2 p.m. -- 10 p.m. in Baghdad -- with students, including Liam.

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After the call, during which the students asked questions thought up by classrooms throughout the school, the fourth-grader was ecstatic.

"It was a blessing just to talk to them," Liam said. "It was awesome."

Six nurses and medics in the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad spoke to 22 Bell-Graham student council members on Wednesday. The call was also broadcast to the rest of the school through the P.A. system.

The school sent 33 boxes filled with items such as beef jerky and pajama bottoms on May 16. The boxes arrived last Friday and were distributed on Memorial Day.

The idea stemmed from an effort by Liam's sister's Brownie troop. They sent cookies to Iraq, and Liam saw pictures of the troops with the cookies, along with drawings sent by the Brownies. That convinced Liam items sent would definitely reach the troops.

"You never really know if they're getting it or not," he said.

Fourth-grader Rebecca Venner, 9, was the first person to speak to the troops, and she asked how it felt to serve in Iraq.

"I was kind of scared at first," she said. "But then you get used to it. It feels really good that you're talking to this person who is serving in the Army for you."

The questions ranged from what the soldiers missed most about the U.S. -- McDonald's fries, Wal-Mart and the new Indiana Jones movie -- to what the weather was like in Iraq -- 103 degrees -- and even to questions about the cause of the war and when it might end. Afterward, the soldiers and students recited the Pledge of Allegiance together.

When Liam spoke on the phone to ask his question, Scuba and the rest of the soldiers praised his initiative.

"Thank you so much for getting this project off the ground," Scuba said. "You should be extremely proud of yourself for having that idea. You'll never realize how many people you touched. It really lifted our hearts and spirits."