Soldier receives hero's welcome
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
"Thank you, thank you, thank you" were words spoken by Senior Airman Josh Fuqua recently after he was welcomed home from the Middle East by Crestline Elementary School students.
Fuqua was invited to visit the school by Ellen Hodgen's fifth grade class after he arrived home from an air base in United Arab Emirates. He is one of about 25 servicemen with local ties whose names are listed on a bulletin board display in Hodgen's classroom. Their names are read aloud and concern is expressed for their safety and wellbeing each school day during a "quiet time" observance. He was also one of 72 military personnel serving in that part of the world to receive a Christmas package from the school last December.
The airman was presented a bouquet of flowers upon his arrival at the school office and students cheered him as he walked the hallways to the commons area. There, he was met by an audience of fifth graders loaded with questions about the war in Iraq. Later, he played the piano for Sandy Hughes' second grade music students.
"This is amazing. I'm honored and blessed," Fuqua told the fifth graders and their teachers. "I want you to know that I was both surprised and pleased to get your Christmas package. The disposable razors and soap came in real handy. Some of the items were shared with fellow airman and I made sure they knew that they came from the elementary school I attended in my hometown."
Fuqua, a computer programmer, said he spent the past four and a half months at Al Shafra AFB, serving as a security escort. He graduated from Hartselle High School in 1996 and attended classes at Calhoun Community College and the University of Alabama in Huntsville before joining the Air Force two and a half years ago.
He had to side step several of the questions that were asked because his tour of duty didn't expose him to the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We were well protected," said.
But he passed on some interesting information in response to some of the questions he received. When asked what kind of animals did he see in United Arab Emirates, he said domestic cats weighing as much as 20 pounds are common and that camels can be seen everywhere.
"I actually got to see a polo game played with camels," he added.
He also said an insect that caught his attention was a poisonous camel spider that can reach a size big enough to cover a soldier's helmet.
Fuqua said what he missed the most about being away from home was his mother's cornbread.
"When I left I was happy to be coming home," Fuqua said, "but I didn't realize how happy I was until our plane touched down at Camp Pope, Va. The first thing I did was order a steak dinner at a Chili's restaurant."
Fuqua showed the students a handful of Iraq currency, including some counterfeit bills. He also presented the school with an U.S. flag that had flown over Iraq in an Air Force cargo plane.
He said a lot of good has come out of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The people are much better off because they are no longer subject to a brutal dictatorship," he pointed out, "but I feel we still have a hard fight ahead of us before the county will be safe."
Fuqua left last weekend for Gunter AFB in Montgomery. He said he plans to attend officers training school and become an officer after his current enlistment is completed.