Soldier shares Flat Stanley’s Iraqi adventures with Nottingham
When Army Staff Sgt. Doug Hartwell told Nottingham Elementary School second-graders about his experiences in Iraq during a May 26 presentation, he had something to which the second-graders could relate: a foot-and-a-half wide, two-dimensional classmate -- of sorts.
Hartwell took a "Flat Stanley" with him across the Middle East. His wife, second-grade teacher Barbie Hartwell, had her class send the "Stanley," based on a children's book in which a boy unable to afford a plane ticket to visit his friend flattens and mails himself instead.
The Stanley from Hartwell's class was a boy-shaped piece of paper on whose stomach was ample room for Staff Sgt. Hartwell to document his -- and Stanley's -- experiences.
After returning home May 24, Hartwell turned around May 26 and spoke to Nottingham children about Stanley's experiences, from going to port to participating in missions. In all, Stanley logged 2.5 million miles across the Middle East.
"We'd go up and down the highways with Flat Stanley," Hartwell said.
Stanley got to pick up tanks for the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment. His first mission was to al-Assad.
Hartwell explained to the children that while in Iraq their "classmate" slept in a truck. Although some soldiers slept in tires, Stanley -- and Hartwell -- opted out.
"(Stanley) was scared sometimes, but he did pretty good," Hartwell said. "I think he did pretty well."
Hartwell, who is in the Army Reserves 129th Transportation Company, left for Fort Riley in January 2003 and went to Iraq in April. He returned in October and was able to meet his wife's current class before returning to the Middle East. Hartwell said he now looked to be home for good.
In November, the students met Hartwell and sent candy canes to him and his fellow soldiers.
"He was surprised to get 3,000 candy canes from you guys," Barbie Hartwell said.
Talking with Iraqi children while onthe road, Staff Sgt. Hartwell said the soldiers passed out candy canes to them, too.
"You guys basically gave candy canes to Iraqi children, which is pretty neat," Hartwell said.
Community members had also sent he and other soldiers beef jerky from Pyle Meat Co., which is paying shipping costs for packages sent to the Middle East.
"This community has been really supportive," Hartwell said.
Despite opposition to the war, Hartwell said support of those fighting it nonetheless was what made his and other soldiers' experiences different from many of those who served in Vietnam.
"It makes a big difference," he said.
By learning the importance of supporting troops from Barbie Hartwell and other teachers at Nottingham, Staff Sgt. Hartwell said the experience became easier for his family.
"I know it meant a lot to my kids to know you support (the soldiers)," he said.
Hartwell said he didn't know how aware the students were of the issues surrounding the conflict, but students asked questions about what type of violent encounters Hartwell faced.
He said a lot of what the students may have seen in the news wasn't representative of his experiences in Iraq.
"It seems like all you see in the media is the fighting, but there's a lot of other stuff going on over there," he said. "Over there it's different."
He told the second-graders about his encounters with children like themselves.
"They were happy to see soldiers," he said. "They're moving on with their lives, hopefully."