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Soldier visits local school

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

(Photo)
Major Edward Gargus, who returned from Iraq with the 1140th Engineer Battalion, talks to a group of students at St. Francis Xavier School.
SIKESTON -- Dressed in his National Guard uniform, Major Edward Gargas of the 1140th Engineer Battalion fielded questions from students at St. Francis Xavier Preschool in Sikeston Tuesday morning.

And in typical preschool fashion, the questions just started coming. "Why do you wear boots?" one child asked.

After Gargas explained the boots are worn to protect the soldiers' feet and ankles, another question was aimed at his wardrobe: "Why do you wear helmets?"

Giving a similar answer about helmets being protection for the soldiers, Gargas patiently -- and pleasantly -- answered several other hows and whys from the group of children.

But it wasn't long before the talk shifted to the 1140th Engineer Battalion, which returned home last Tuesday after serving a year in southern Iraq.

"There were these bad guys who had a lot of money and they treated people bad," Gargas told the group of 3 and 4-year-olds. "They were tired of these actions and needed freedom. ... So not just us, but a bunch of people came to help them."

Gargas, who is from Dexter, went on to the tell the children that in Iraq there are preschools and children just like them, except there were typically schools for boys and schools for girls.

"Females were educated at a different level than the males, and at the girls' school, there were all female teachers," Gargas said.

Later student Will Pratt asked Gargas if everyone in Iraq were "bad guys."

"A vast majority -- about 95-plus percent -- are good people and are very glad we're over there," Gargas said. "There are a lot of bad people in Iraq, but they're bad people from other countries."

Gargas also told to the children about the weather in Iraq.

"It was 140 degrees for 40 days and 120 degrees for 80 days, but you get used to it," Gargas said. "We had to drink plenty of water."

Gargas noted the offices and tents were air conditioned.

Mary Borgsmiller, who teaches the 4-year-olds at St. Francis Xavier, said the topic of Iraq and soldiers wasn't new to the youngsters.

"We talked about it while the 1140th was gone over the past year, and we sent blankets and coats to the Iraqi children when it was cold over there," Borgsmiller said. "(Today) it's good for them to see a soldier -- They see so much on the news."

During his visit, Gargas showed the children pictures of a robot that hunts bombs, a medical evacuation helicopter, a police station in Iraq, a herd of camels and one of Saddam Hussein's water palaces -- which drew questions from the children.

"Did you go in there?"

"Did you shoot him (Hussein)?"

"Did you see monsters in there?" they asked.

Yes, no and no Gargas' responded. He concluded by showing the students a video from his laptop of 1140th soldiers playing with some of the Iraqi children during their task to deliver sandals and soccer balls to the children. The items were sent from churches in the Cape Girardeau area, he noted.

"Soccer is big over there," Gargas told the preschoolers.

Although it was great to spend time with the children, it was also very sad because the children were running around in the cold with no shoes, Gargas said. However, the soldiers befriended the children and gave away lots of candy with the permission of their parents, he said.

A week has passed since the 1140th returned, and Gargas said he's getting used to being home.

"We were all pretty tired when we got back. We had been working for a few days at Fort Riley (Kan.). The hardest part was adjusting to the time change," Gargas recalled.

Gargas said next on his agenda is a trip to Florida with his wife and their young son.

Meanwhile Gargas was just glad to visit with the preschoolers, he said.

"It's exciting to come and talk to the kids," Gargas said following his presentation. "They're so inquisitive."