Earlier this year, kindergarteners and second-graders from classes at Cutchogue East Elementary School decorated and packed small bags with candy to send to Air Force Lt. Col. Shawn Fitzgerald and the rest of the 103rd Rescue Squadron stationed in eastern Africa.
On Friday, they got a very special kind of thank you from Lt. Col. Fitzgerald — whose two sons, Colin and Trevor, are in the classes — and the service members he deployed with.
Lt. Col. Fitzgerald recently returned home from deployment and visited the classes at the end of school to talk about his mission and to say thank you for the handmade cards.
He also showed the students slideshows and videos of he and his fellow rescue members training.
The children were seemingly more fascinated by the name of the country where Lt. Col. Fitzgerald was stationed: Djibouti.
Lt. Col. Fitzgerald, a veteran of the Westhampton air base for seven years and a member of the armed forces for 11 years more, told the students about the animals he saw in Africa and the people he met. He explained he was there to “rescue people” who were hurt or needed help.
One student asked if he was like a policeman; Lt. Col. Fitzgerald said no, he didn’t arrest anyone. He told the children about houses made of brick, because wood is scarce in that part of Africa.
Finally, Lt. Col. Fitzgerald pulled out two stacks of letters, each personally written by the men and women stationed abroad who received the kids’ presents.
“We’re not really able to celebrate Halloween or that sort of thing so it was nice to put a little piece of home over there,” Lt. Col. Fitzgerald said.