Commander Jim Visits Eagle Rock Elementary
On January 19, 2011 the students of Eagle Rock Elementary received one of the greatest surprises of their school careers. James Robertson, Commander, U.S. Coast Guard (Commander Jim), their pen pal for over a year, took time on his way home from his assignment in Iraq to meet the students whose letters, gifts, and support meant so much to him. Students from Eagle Rock began correspondence with him while he was stationed in Alaska and have followed Commander Jim in his travels for the past year.
Commander Jim was greeted by enthusiastic applause and huge smiles. He was so emotional that he was rendered speechless, “… just the emotion in the room. He was touched to the point of tears, which had a lot of people (including a few kids) also tearing up. The kids were SO excited and the excitement was all over their faces.” Kelly Miller, 3rd grade teacher. “It was so awesome to see how much the letters and contact meant to him. I will never forget him getting emotional when talking about the whole experience. I don’t think the kids will ever fully understand the impact they made on him. Now that I’ve seen him in person, I won’t forget him either!” Lauren Tribble, 4th grade teacher. Commander Jim’s contagious smile, high energy, and true dedication to the country and people he dearly loves and proudly serves was humbling.
Last year, Mrs. Debbie Johnson, an Instructional Assistant at Eagle Rock, asked students in Mrs. Hipes’ second grade class if they would like to make Valentines for a soldier serving in the war. The kids were excited about the idea! Now Mrs. Johnson needed the name of a soldier. She told a friend about the idea and to make a long story short she emailed a soldier’s wife a few days later in Alaska. Mrs. Johnson had the name and address needed for the mailing of the Valentines Mrs. Hipes’ students had created in their art class. The Valentines from home were appreciated by U.S. Coast Guard Commander James Robertson and his office staff. The Commander said he enjoyed reading the children’s cards and his staff decorated their office with the Valentines. Other classrooms followed with art works, letters of thanks and encouragement to the Commander. Students’ cards and letters were mailed periodically throughout this past summer by Mrs. Johnson. Commander Jim not only responded with class letters, he also responded personally to over 100 individual students.
In a letter accompanying the children’s mailings to the Commander, Mrs. Johnson, shared a conversation that she had with a then 2nd grade student, Jonny Church. In November of 2009, Jonny and Mrs. Johnson were in the gym when the Pledge of Allegiance, led by SCA officers came on over the speakers. While Mrs. Johnson was repeating the Pledge of Allegiance Jonny stopped her and said, “Mrs. Johnson, how can you say the Pledge? We have a flag in our room but we don’t have a flag in our gym!” The Commander appreciated the patriotism. He requested permission to have a flag flown over the base in Iraq in honor of the students at Eagle Rock Elementary School. The National Ensign flew over the U.S. base in Camp Bucca, Iraq, on August 25, 2010 which was the students first day back to school!
The Flag was presented to the students during opening exercises for Heritage Day events by Principal, Jessica Martin. Ms Martin spoke to the students about the Nation’s symbol, respect for the Flag, and what it has stood for in past and present times. Jonny held the folded Flag while this year’s newly elected S. C. A. president and vice president, Alexis Gluth, and Zack Hodges led the student body in the pledge to the Flag followed by the Character Counts pledge. The flag and certificate of authenticity are framed and in the school gym. A copy of the certificate was also sent to Jonny.
In January 2010, James Robertson, Commander, U.S. Coast Guard, assumed command of the Port Advisory Coordinating Element, working with Iraqi port officials to develop and implement a port security program to comply with the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. Through his letters, the students at Eagle Rock have made a real connection with one of our servicemen. They have learned so much from Commander Jim through his travels and work. His beliefs in the importance of education as well as his compassion and believe in community are apparent. Commander Jim and his unit’s efforts have not only opened safe ports but promoted commercial sustainability that created job opportunities.
After much work and little rest, Commander Jim is going to spend some time with family in New Jersey before returning to his wife, sons, and duties with the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska. The staff and students of Eagle Rock Elementary are honored to have a friend in Commander Jim and are so appreciative of his service and devotion to our students!
Letters written to our school by Commander Jim can be found on the sidebar of the school website at www.sites.google.com/a/bcps.k12.va.us/eagle-rock.
submitted by Jessica Martin