Mississippi Soldier Shares Experiences With Students - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

04/14/04

Mississippi Soldier Shares Experiences With Students

A Mississippi National Guardsman shared stories about Iraq with students at his old elementary school.

Michael Wills recently returned home following an eleven month tour of duty overseas.

He was welcomed as a "hometown hero" and wants youngsters to understand the realities of war.

Wills spent about 40 minutes speaking at a school assembly Wednesday morning. His goal was to put a familiar face with America's military mission in Iraq. His firsthand account helped them better understand the story beyond the headlines.

"It felt bad being in a place that you had to get used to. You had to relearn a lot of things in your life all over again," said Wills, as he addressed a school assemby at Woolmarket Elementary.

The Mississippi National Guardsman learned plenty about war during his eleven months in Iraq. He learned lessons about life at Woolmarket Elementary School.

"Not too many moons back, I was sitting right in the stands you were. Doing gym class in the same seats you are. Talking with the same teachers. Doing exactly the same thing you're doing now," Wills said.

This time, he traded places with the teachers. Students are hearing about Iraq from someone who's been there.

"They're just like any other nation. They have good people and they have bad people. We defend ourselves and fight against the bad people. But we're there to help the good people," he said.

He impressed to these youngsters the mission in Iraq reaches far beyond fighting. It's about helping promote freedom and a better quality of life.

"Our mission as 890th Engineers Battalion, while we were overseas, we didn't shoot people. We didn't do things like that. We had to defend ourselves if we needed to, but that was not our main goal. Our main goal was to help rebuild Iraq," he said.

Wills told his young friends how much he appreciates their support. Several classes sent letters last year.

"I wrote how much I missed him and hope he came back safe from Iraq," said one fourth grader.

"I told him how old I was. And Happy Christmas. And to be safe," recalled a third grade girl.

The hometown hero was most grateful for all the support from his former school.

And Wills' down to earth personality was a hit with the kids. He told them candy and sweets are among the things soldiers miss most. The children laughed when he talked about hoarding bags of "Skittles".

By Steve Phillips

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