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thedrifter
03-07-07, 02:54 PM
Sending a little Easter to Iraq
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Magdalene Biesanz

Anna Ludwig has some very unusual pen pals. They happen to be members of the National Guard and U.S. Marines serving in Iraq. She's been sending letters halfway around the world to cheer up troops for more than three years now. But this spring, with the help of her 4-H club, the sixth grader is going to send them a little bit of Easter -- jellybeans and all.

On Monday night, the Fredonia Country Club 4-H group wrapped up 30 mini Easter baskets to send to soldiers from Le Mars and Sioux City serving in Iraq. One of Ludwig's contacts in Iraq, Guardsman Michael Nelson of Le Mars, sent her a letter asking if she might put together a little something to make Easter feel more like a holiday for the 30 soldiers in his group.

Ludwig decided to get help. She picked up a $50 grant from Pioneer Seeds and asked her 4-H club to donate treats and decorations to pack baskets. They also decided to pack up potting soil, pans and grass seed so the troops can have their own mini-garden to bring some color to their Iraqi camps.

Now the baskets are ready to head across the ocean and into the hands of area soldiers.

Ludwig started writing to soldiers when she was nine.

"I was kind of bored, and my mom told me I should think about 4-H projects," she remembered. "I saw interviews on TV with soldiers that didn't have any family to write to them."

She hasn't had much time to be bored since that first letter.

Ludwig keeps in contact with at least five different troops, and they send her mementos like a token with her name in Arabic and military sunglasses.

"I sent a Christmas tree to one guy named Joe from Moville," she said. "He hung it from his ceiling."

During the basket-packing on Monday, Ludwig is sporting a shirt that reads "Operation Iraqi Freedom -- Defender Forts -- Mosul." Odds are you won't see another one like it.

It came from a soldier Ludwig is close to -- the woman's group had the shirts printed and she told her lieutenant she wanted one extra printed and explained all the letter-writing Ludwig had been up to. The lieutenant agreed.

"She told me I'm the only civilian that has this shirt," Ludwig said.

Ludwig even had the chance to meet a couple of her letter buddies.

"They come up and hug you -- they're so glad to meet you," she said. "Sometimes they look like they're going to cry."

"They've influenced her so much she wants to be in the Marines," Ludwig's mom Donna said.

The sixth grader confirmed it.

"It would be awesome," she said. "All the action -- I think it would be boring to sit in an office."

And, she added, they're really strong.

"If anyone would try to hurt you it would be basically impossible," she said.

Even tough people like National Guards troops and Marines need a little TLC, though.

And that's where the jellybeans, robin's eggs and chocolate bunnies come in.

Ellie