BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - Fifth grade students at North Bay Elementary School in Bay St. Louis got a surprise visit from a long distance friend Friday. Staff Sergeant Kevin Smith is an Army Infantry Battalion leader who received letters and packages from the students while he was recently deployed in Afghanistan. The unexpected visit gave the soldier and the students a chance to finally put a face with a name.
Army Staff Sergeant Kevin Smith received a hero's welcome from the students who had no idea he had come to see them.
"I just saw the uniform and I saw who it was and I was just excited," said 5th grader Breauna McDoanld.
"We wrote letters to him and I thought, 'Hey, that's cool enough.' But when he walked in those doors it was just like that wow feeling," said 5th grader Miles Wilemon.
Smith is with the Army's 3rd Squadron 89th Cavalry Regiment, based in Fort Polk, Louisiana. He just wrapped up a nine month deployment in Afghanistan. During that time he received letters and packages from these students.
"They started little things to make Afghanistan feel more homey, I guess. Small little trinkets and stuff like that. Then I started receiving letters. I went through every letter and wrote back to them on an individual basis based on what they said to me. A lot of them sent pictures and I posted them on my wall," U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Smith recalled.
He said the students became part of his extended family. He came to the school to eat launch with them and answer their questions.
The Pen Pal with a Soldier program started at North Bay Elementary at the beginning of the school year. Organizers said for the students it's a real learning experience.
"If we could just take away a little bit of the stress and hardship of being away from their families, away from their country and modern conveniences. If we could just do something small," said Program Coordinator Honey Spoon.
North Bay Elementary School adopted five Louisiana soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. They hope to receive visits from the others soon.